News / Economy

US Housing Market Improves

There's good news for the U.S. housing market. Newly released figures show a modest uptick in the sales of new and used homes in July. Average home prices also are rising.  But a number of obstacles remain for the struggling housing market.

Housing has been a major drag on the economy for the last five years, but a new government report suggests a modest recovery may be under way. Sales of new homes rose 3.6 percent in July.  And a separate report by the National Association of Realtors says demand for previously owned homes is up.

Even luxury builders have benefited. Toll Brothers, best known for its so-called larger homes called "McMansions," has posted its best quarter in four years.  

"We are blessed with increased demand. The pent-up demand from the customers who have been on the sidelines for the last four to five, six years -- has started to release," said Martin Connor, the company's chief financial officer.

Smaller inventories have also led to higher home prices - up an average of 9 percent from a year ago.

Connor says that's helped boost builder confidence.  Last month applications for building permits hit a four-year high.

"So while we've had some fits and starts since the downturn, we believe based on the strength and depth of this selling season that the market is back," Connor said.

But even with recent gains, analysts say overall home prices are still below levels needed to sustain a healthy recovery.  Weak job growth in the U.S has not helped.  And despite record low interest rates, tighter lending standards continue to constrain buyers.

Ken Simonson is chief economist for one of the largest construction trade groups in the U.S.

"Certainly credit is still a big issue for developers, for people who want to take out a home mortgage.  Those things are retarding the ability to order up new construction," Simonson said.

Despite the difficulties, confidence in a full recovery is growing. Economists are forecasting new home construction will add two tenths of one percent to overall U.S. growth this year. That would mark the first year of positive growth for the U.S. housing market since 2005.

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