Last Wednesday, the Commerce Department reported that Housing Starts dropped 11.7% in October. This drop put Housing Starts at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 519,000, their lowest level in 18 months. But most of the fall off came from a 43.5% decline in multifamily construction, a volatile part of the market. Single-family building, accounting for more than 80% of all starts, was off just 1.1%, to 436,000 units. And September single-family starts were revised UP to a 2.1% gain. Meanwhile, Building Permits, which reflect builders' views of the future, were UP 0.5% to 550,000, another hopeful sign.
February housing starts were down 5.9%, to an annual rate of 575,000 units, but this was higher than consensus expectations and almost all the drop came from multi-family units. Single-family homes were off only 0.6% in February and are still up 39.8% over their low a year ago. Meanwhile, new building permits for February fell 1.6%, to an annual rate of 612,000, but that was also better than estimates and permits are still up an estimated 11.3% from a year ago. The experts all thought we'd see a MAJOR drop in home building given the record snow storms on the East Coast. But we didn't. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) estimates we'll see 694,000 housing starts in 2010, a 20% hike from 2009 numbers.
Big news for the housing market came Friday when the President signed a bill extending and broadening tax credits for homebuyers. Major points were first reported in an Inside Lending Bulletin last Thursday. The tax credits apply to contracts signed by April 30, 2010, that close by June 30. Income limits for eligibility have been increased to $125,000 per year for individuals and up to $225,000 per year for couples. Credits up to $8,000 continue for first-time buyers but there is now a $6,500 tax credit for buyers who've owned their current home at least five of the last eight years. However, homes selling for more than $800,000 are not eligible.
There were few major surprises in the economic news this week, and little change in the stock market. While there was a great deal of daily volatility, Austin mortgage rates ended the week nearly unchanged.
For the third week in a row, rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages remained below 5% in Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey. The average for conforming mortgages was 4.92% with an average of 0.7 point (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio loans to borrowers with good credit.