Sales of newly built homes tank in April, as prices and interest rates rise

Real Estate

A pile of lumber at a home under construction at the Cold Spring Barbera Homes subdivision in Loudonville, New York, US, on Wednesday Nov. 8, 2023. 
Angus Mordant | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Sales of newly built homes dropped 4.7% in April compared with March, and dropped a larger 7.7% from the prior year, the U.S. Census said Thursday.

March sales were also revised significantly lower.

Higher mortgage rates are clearly hampering sales. The monthly reading is based on signed contracts, so it reflects people shopping during the month and inking deals based on current rates.

The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage was in the high 6%-range at the end of March, but then shot up to 7.5% during April, cutting into affordability.

Adding to that, the median price of a new home sold in April was $433,500, 4% higher than it was in April 2023. Some of that is due to the mix of homes selling, which is mostly on the higher end of the market. Those buyers are not as influenced by mortgage rates, as they often use all cash.

Builders say they cannot lower prices due to high costs for land, labor and materials. The big production builders have been buying down mortgage rates to help boost sales, but they are able to do that because of their size. DR Horton and Toll Brothers reported strong earnings in their latest quarters, beating expectations and citing growing demand due to low supply in the resale market.

“For all the happy talk from the big builders (who are taking market share), the entire new build industry is selling new homes at a pace below the 5 yr average,” noted Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Financial Group and a CNBC contributor.

In the first quarter of 2024, 38% of a median household income nationally was needed to make the mortgage payment on a median priced new single-family home, according to a new index launched Thursday by the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo. Low-income families, which it defines as those earning just 50% of the area’s median income, would have to spend 77% of their earnings to pay for the same new home. 

Prices continue to rise for both new and existing homes due to a lack of supply. There is very little available for sale on the lower end of the resale market. While the number of newly-built homes continues to rise, up 12% year over year, new homes come at a price premium and are out of range for lower-income buyers.

“With a nationwide shortage of roughly 1.5 million homes, the lack of housing units is the primary cause of growing housing affordability challenges,” said Robert Dietz, NAHB’s chief economist. “Policymakers at all levels of government need to enact policy changes that will allow builders to construct more homes, such as speeding up permit approval times, providing resources for skilled labor training and fixing building material supply chains.” 

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