Builders Feel the Most Upbeat in More Than 4 Years

Builder confidence is at its highest level since June 2007, yet another sign that things are finally perking up in the new-home market, which has faced some of its darkest days on record this past year.

For the fourth consecutive month, builder sentiment for newly built, single-family homes was on the rise, according to the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. The index measures builder sentiment on current and future sales conditions and buyer traffic.

The latest increase in the January index is “universally represented across every index component and region,” said Bob Nielsen, NAHB chairman.

“This good news comes on the heels of several months of gains in single-family housing starts and sales, and is yet another indication of the gradual but steady improvement that is beginning to take hold in an increasing number of housing markets nationwide,” Nielsen said.

Coming Off a Dismal 2011

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that for the third straight month, single-family home construction rose 4.5 percent in December. However, overall housing starts for the month dropped 4.1 percent, with gains in the single-family sector offset by a nearly 28 percent drop in apartment construction in December.

The latest news wraps up a dismal year for new-home building, with 2011 marking the fewest number of single-family homes built in half-century. In all, builders started about 606,900 homes in 2011 — that’s half the 1.2 million economists consider healthy for the sector.

Nevertheless, despite the mostly sluggish year for the sector, building did start to pick up in the last part of 2011 and housing analysts are upbeat that will continue. “We expect further sustained gains in starts and permits over the next few months; a real recovery is getting started,” Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, told the Associated Press.

Threats to Recovery Remain

NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe warns that “caution remains the word of the day as many builders continue to voice concerns about potential clients being unable to qualify for an affordable mortgage, appraisals coming through below construction cost, and the continuing flow of foreclosed properties hitting the market.”

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