Housing starts jump nearly 7% in June

  • Article by: JIM BUCHTA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 18, 2012 - 9:15 PM

Those numbers, highest in nearly four years, add hope that the residential market is turning.

In the Twin Cities and across the country, tight supplies of existing homes and record low mortgage rates have been a salve for home builders, who are beginning to hammer their way out of the deepest downturn in generations.

U.S. housing starts increased 6.9 percent in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 760,000, the highest level since October 2008.

"We could get used to this trend," said Curt Christensen, president of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities (BATC) and owner of Lee Lyn Construction. "We're seeing plenty of signs of improvement in housing."

The rising number of housing starts is the latest in a bevy of positive reports that shows the residential real estate market is strengthening, even as global economic jitters dominate the broader economy. Home sales and prices have begun climbing in the past quarter, stirring hope for the construction industry as well.

"Housing continues to be the one sector of the U.S. economy that is outperforming expectations," said Michael Gapen, an economist at Barclays.

In June, permits in the Twin Cities were up 80 percent compared with the same time last year, punctuated by strong demand for single-family houses and rental apartments, according to the BATC. Twin Cities builders were issued 465 permits to build 555 units. (A single permit can be issued to build more than one unit.)

Despite a growing consensus that the worse of the housing downturn has passed, the market remains hobbled by a glut of unsold homes. And since it makes up a smaller share of the economy than it did before the recession, it can provide only a limited lift to the broader recovery.

In a cautionary sign for housing, new permits for building apartments and houses dropped 3.7 percent, to a 755,000-unit pace, a disappointment compared with a particularly strong performance during the previous month.

Over the past year, the construction industry got its biggest boost from apartment developments. Rental vacancy rates in most major metro areas are near historic lows, fueling robust demand for new units. But because apartment complexes tend to have several hundred units, monthly housing data tends to be volatile. For example, multifamily starts increased 12.8 percent in June, but had fallen 19.3 percent the previous month.

There are plenty of long-term indications that the market is turning. The Twin Cities office of Metrostudy, a national construction research firm, said Twin Cities home builders are having their best year since 2007, including a 45 percent increase in starts during the first six months of the year vs. 2011.

Such trends aren't only lifting sales, they're lifting spirits. On Tuesday, the National Association of Home Builders said that its housing market index this month jumped to its highest level since March 2007, the largest monthly increase since September 2002.

The New York Times contributed to this report. • Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376

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