After notable and expected downward revisions for prior months, May recorded a decline of 5.9% for sales of newly-constructed single family homes, according to estimates from the Census Bureau and HUD. The May seasonally adjusted annual rate (769k) was the lowest in a year, due to builders slowing sales as a consequence of higher material costs and declining availability of labor, material and lots.
Residential demand continues to be supported by low interest rates, a renewed consumer focus on the importance of housing, and solid demand in lower-density markets like suburbs and exurbs. However, higher building costs, longer delivery times, and general unpredictability in the residential construction supply-chain are having measurable impacts on new home prices. In May, the median price of a newly-built home was 18% higher than a year ago, at $374,400. As NAHB has estimated, higher lumber costs alone are increasing new home prices by $36,000 on average.
Higher costs have priced out buyers, particularly at the lower end of the market. A year ago, 44% of new home sales were priced below $300,000. In May 2021, only 26% of new home sales were priced below $300,000.
Looking back to the spring of last year, the April 2020 data (570,000 annualized pace) marks the low point of sales for the 2020 recession. The April 2020 rate was 26% lower than the prior peak, pre-recession rate set in January. Sales then mounted a historic surge from April until July, outpacing gains in actual construction. Sales have been above the pace of the post-Great Recession trend since the second half of last year. However, since January the trend has been declining and has now dipped below the long-run trend (as indicated by the blue dashed line in the graph above).
Sales-adjusted inventory levels remained healthy in May, although they did increase to a 5.1 months’ supply.
Completed ready-to-occupy homes continue to fall as a share of new home inventory. Such homes were just under 24% of inventory a year ago. They are only a little more than 11% of the total in May 2021.
Moreover, to see how sales patterns have changed in a high demand, low supply market — the count of new homes sold that had not started construction is up 76 percent over the last year. The count of new homes sold that are completed and ready to occupy is down 33 percent.
Regionally on a year-to-date basis new home sales rose in all four regions, up 48.7% in the Northeast, 33.5% in the Midwest, 32.3% in the South, and 5.6% in the West. These significant increases are due in part to lower sales volume during the Covid crisis a year ago.