Looking at the housing market
July 31, 2020 | 11:33 am CDT

Q. I saw you speak earlier about the housing market. Could you go over that again?

Answer. Every month, the U.S. Department of Commerce supplies numbers about the U.S. housing market. Indeed, housing is one bellwether of the economy. The figures released for the previous month are an estimate based on a small survey. The figures for the past months are revised over the next few months.

Many organizations interpret these numbers monthly, often in the most positive manner. I suggest that you go to the original data and do your own analysis. The data is on the Internet. See https://www.census.gov/construction/nrc/pdf/newresconst.pdf

One key set of data is the "New Privately-Owned Housing Units Authorized but Not Started." Note that the data includes the raw data plus it includes a seasonally adjusted data where monthly gains and drops that we see every year are factored in.

In May 2020, there were 1,220,000 buildings permits, 974,000 housing starts, and 1,115,000 housing completions.

The data set called "Housing Units Started," not seasonally adjusted, showed a 1.4 percent increase in 2019, the most recent year completed, compared to 2018 for single family, but a drop of 4.7 percent for 2 to 4 family units and an increase of 7.8 percent for 5 or more units.

Except for the 6.6 percent increase in single unit starts in the South, the rest of the country had fewer starts in 2019 than in 2018, with the biggest decrease (11.9 percent) in the Northeast.

Another set of data is "Housing units Under Construction." Except for 5 and larger units (+7.3 percent), the number of single units and 2 through 4 units in 2019 were less than 2018.

Certainly, you need to interpret all the numbers as they apply to your particular products. But, it does seem clear that the South has the most positive numbers and that larger multi-family units are increasing in importance. Single family units are not growing by leaps and bounds.

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Gene Wengert

Gene Wengert, “The Wood Doctor” has been training people in efficient use of wood for 35 years. He is extension specialist emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.