The year 2023 began on a positive note for homebuilders, as a surge in demand revitalized the new house market. Price-sensitive buyers, seeking relief from the previous year’s mortgage rate shock, were enticed by builders’ significant price adjustments and aggressive incentives. However, while the housing recession in the new-home space appears to be over for now, industry experts remain cautious about the road ahead, considering broader economic concerns and lingering affordability issues. In this article, we will explore the current state of the new home market, the factors contributing to its recovery, and the potential challenges that may impede its growth.
Rising Sales and Optimism:
At the halfway mark of 2023, the new construction sector continues to show improvement. New home sales in May witnessed a remarkable 20% year-over-year increase, matching the highest monthly reading recorded between 2010 and 2019. Homebuilder confidence, a leading indicator, is also on the rise. These positive trends have prompted Ali Wolf, chief economist at Zonda, to state that the housing recession in the new-home space is objectively over.
Cautious Optimism and Economic Concerns:
Despite the recent upswing in the new house market, economists like Wolf urge caution and emphasize that sustained growth is not guaranteed. Various broader economic factors could potentially impact housing demand and thrust the market back into a double-dip recession. Concerns include the aftermath of the Federal Reserve’s restrictive policy, a significant pullback in consumer spending, and repercussions from the commercial real estate sector. Monitoring these factors closely will provide insight into whether demographic-supported demand can withstand wider economic issues.
Affordability Remains a Challenge:
While homebuilders have taken steps to improve affordability by adjusting prices and offering incentives, the market still grapples with strained affordability. The rapid increase in mortgage rates immediately following a period of historic overheating in home price growth between 2020 and 2022 has contributed to this challenge. If the economy weakens and the existing/resale inventory expands, builders may find themselves facing another housing recession.
The Federal Reserve Factor:
Another headwind facing the new home market lies in the Federal Reserve’s current rate hiking campaign. This campaign is the fastest in over four decades and typically concludes with a U.S. recession. Federal Reserve board governor Christopher Waller stated earlier this year that there is usually a lag of nine to twelve months between a policy move and its impact on the broader economy. Given the relatively recent rate hikes, economists remain cautious and refrain from prematurely declaring victory in the market.
While the new home market has shown promising signs of recovery, it is not immune to potential challenges on the horizon. Homebuilders have managed to attract buyers through affordability improvements, but concerns over broader economic issues and strained affordability persist. The impact of the Federal Reserve’s policies and the potential for a U.S. recession add further uncertainty. The industry will closely monitor these factors to determine whether the current growth trajectory will be sustained or if a double-dip recession is on the horizon. As the market evolves, both industry professionals and prospective homebuyers will watch with anticipation, hoping for a stable and thriving new home market in the coming months.