WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 - Builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes rose for the first time in seven months this September, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), released today. The HMI gained two points to 18, rising from its record low of the previous two months.
"Builders have several reasons to be more optimistic at this time," noted NAHB President Sandy Dunn, a home builder from Point Pleasant, W.Va. "Many are sensing that home sales are nearing a turning point with the support of the newly enacted first-time home buyer tax credit. Meanwhile, with the government's explicit backing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac now assured, this should help keep mortgage rates at very favorable levels going forward."
Following the Treasury Department's announcement that it was placing mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship last week, the average rate on 30-year fixed-rate conforming home mortgages declined by nearly half a percentage point, falling to below 6 percent for the first time in several months. Market responses to the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy filing and the purchase of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America have put additional downward pressure on prime conforming mortgage rates.
"Nearly half of the builders in our September survey indicated that they expect to see a positive impact from the tax credit in their market areas," said NAHB Chief Economist David Seiders. "Of those respondents, 20 percent said their market has already experienced some of this effect. Meanwhile, consumer confidence has risen and more households are saying that now is a good time to buy a home. All of these factors, along with the recent downward movements in mortgage rates, suggest that new-home sales will be stabilizing in the final quarter of the year."
Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for more than 20 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as "good," "fair" or "poor." The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as "high to very high," "average" or "low to very low." Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.
All three of the HMI's component indexes registered gains in September. The indexes gauging current sales conditions and traffic of prospective buyers were each up a single point, to 17 and 14, respectively. Meanwhile, the index gauging sales expectations for the next six months rose by six points, to 30 - which was four points higher than its year-ago level.
All regions also posted some degree of improvement in the September HMI, with the Midwest, South and West each up two points, to 15, 22 and 12, respectively, and the Northeast posting a six-point gain to 22.