While existing homebuyers have been battling high mortgage rates for months — which are now at 8% — the builders are wooing buyers with lower rates and incentives. Today, the new home sales data beat expectations and surprised people. However, sales have been rising slowly for some time. 

Using a low bar of sales from last year, the builder’s incentives have created more sales growth and their significant advantage is that they’re offering lower rates to move homes. Imagine what the existing home sales market would look like if mortgage rates were below 6%. We certainly wouldn’t be trending below 4 million existing home sale today if that was the case.

From CensusNew Home Sales: Sales of new single‐family houses in September 2023 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 759,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 12.3 percent (±16.6 percent)* above the revised August rate of 676,000 and 33.9 percent (±22.9 percent) above the September 2022 estimate of 567,000..

As you can see in the chart below, new home sales are slowly growing, There’s nothing gangbusters here, but new home sales have been slowly moving higher for some time. This is very different from the housing bubble years, where sales were booming like crazy and got close to 1.4 million. Currently, the seasonal adjusted annual rate of sales is just 759,000. 

From Census: For Sale Inventory and Months’ Supply The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of September was 435,000. This represents a supply of 6.9 months at the current sales rate.

Here’s my model for understanding the builders.

  • When supply is 4.3 months and below, this is an excellent market for builders.
  • When supply is 4.4-6.4 months, this is just an OK market for builders. They will build as long as new home sales are growing.
  • When supply is over 6.5 months, the builders will pause construction. 

We have been able to build more single-family housing, and single-family permits have been slowly rising, which offsets the multifamily weakness that should be here for some time now, as we can see in the chart below. The monthly supply of new homes is falling from the recent peak but needs more work to return to pre-COVID-19 levels.

One of the things I like to do is break down the monthly supply data into subcategories. We have a lot of homes in the pipeline that still need to get built; this is why the builders are making deals. As we see in the monthly supply data, they had a spike last year and are forced to create incentives to move homes. Here’s how the supply breaks down: 

  • 1.4 months of the supply are homes completed and ready for sale — about 75,000 homes.
  • 4.0 months of the supply are homes that are still under construction — about 255,000 homes
  • 1.7  months of the supply are homes that haven’t been started yet — about 105,000 homes

75,000 new homes ready for sale

One of the data lines that very few people know about, but is critical to the inventory story in the U.S., is how many new homes are built and ready for sale! It’s not a lot now, nor has it ever been a lot. Even during the housing bubble crash years, we never got above 200,000. Most active listings’ inventory growth comes from the existing home sales market.

Keep things simple with today’s new home sales report: the builders confidence has been falling for months as rates have risen; many builders can’t pay down rates, and the ones that do are taking a hit on their profit margins.

However, the builders’ profit margins are still higher today than in the previous decade. This is the first time this century that we have seen a noticeable gap between purchase application data and new homes because, as we all know, the builders are singing: Baby, it’s cold outside…come inside for lower rates.

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