US housing starts rise, permits at 4 ½-year high

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 19, 2013 at 10:23 am •  Published: March 19, 2013
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Still, the supply of available homes for sale remains low. That has helped push up home prices. They rose nearly 10 percent in January compared with 12 months earlier, according to CoreLogic, the biggest increase in nearly seven years.

Higher prices mean that more Americans have equity in their homes. Last year, about 1.7 million Americans went from owing more on their mortgages than their homes were worth to having some ownership stake, CoreLogic reported Tuesday. That benefits both home owners and the broader economy.

When homeowners have some equity stake, it makes it easier for them to sell or borrow against their homes. Still, 10.4 million households, or 21.5 percent of those with a mortgage, remain "under water," or owe more on their home than it is worth.

The number of previously occupied homes for sale has fallen to its lowest level in 13 years. And the pace of foreclosures, while still rising in some states, has slowed sharply on a national basis. That means fewer low-priced foreclosed homes are being dumped on the market.

Those trends, and the likelihood of further price gains, have led builders to step up construction. Last year, builders broke ground on the most homes in four years.

Homebuilders have become much more confident over the past year. But in March, a measure of home builder confidence fell for the second straight month over concerns that demand for new homes is exceeding supplies of land, building materials and workers. In the short term, that could slow sales.

Still, the survey noted that the outlook for sales over the next six months rose to its highest level in more than six years.

Though new homes represent only a fraction of the housing market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to statistics from the homebuilders.