10.23.2009 Policy Points

Housing Market: September Starts/Permits

From the latest issue of the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Housing Market Monitor:

After rebounding from the extraordinarily low levels of last winter, housing construction seems to have stabilized over the last three months. Starts were at a 590,000 annual rate in October, the same level as June and also the average for the last two months. Starts of single-family homes have increased slightly over this period, rising by 4.8 percent from their June level. Starts in buildings with 5 or more units fell by 22.8 percent.

On a more encouraging note, it appears that the pace of foreclosures may finally be slowing. According to MDA Data Quick, notices of default in California were down by 10 percent compared with the second quarter, although they were up 18.5 percent from the third quarter of 2008. Actual foreclosures were down by 37 percent from their year ago level, although they have been rising modestly in the last two quarters. These figures present a mixed picture on mortgage modification plans. The modification plans probably have slowed the rate of foreclosure slightly in California, one of the hardest hit states in the country, but foreclosures are still occurring at a rate of close to 200,000 a year.

It is likely that house prices may see renewed downward pressure with fewer first-time buyers in the market. Also, many sellers who had delayed putting their homes on the market may no longer have the ability to delay selling further. And there continues to be a large supply of foreclosed homes.

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