Mirroring the uneven economic recovery, the housing market is expected to move in a slow, gradual upward path in 2012, while encountering its share of speed bumps along the road, according to economists participating in yesterday's National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) construction forecast webinar on the housing and economic outlook.
While the latest monthly housing data have shown signs of a slight softening, NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said this is more reflective of typical month-to-month volatility in the numbers and unusual seasonal factors than they are an indication of any significant downward trend in the broader housing market
"The aggregate information suggests we're just in a pause mode right now in terms of these measures," said Crowe, who noted this could partly be the result of an early spring that brought much better weather than usual into the picture at the start of this year and pulled some housing activity forward.
Pointing out that less volatile quarterly data have continued to show modest improvement in key housing indicators such as builder sentiment, new-home sales and housing production, Crowe said the "housing outlook continues to slowly brighten."
Crowe noted that numerous other fundamentals remain positive for housing at this time, including demographic factors (with pent-up household demand expected to ramp up and echo-boomers heading into their prime household formation ages), historically favorable mortgage rates that are not expected to move higher than 5 percent by the end of next year, more than 100 local markets currently listed on the NAHB/First American Improving Markets Index, and the fact that house price-to-income ratio has now returned to its historical average of about three-to-one versus the nearly five-to-one to which it had previously risen during the height of the housing boom.
However, he cautioned that housing still continues to face formidable challenges of its own — such as rising foreclosures, persistently tight lending standards for home buyers and builders and difficulties in obtaining accurate appraisals. Moreover, disappointing job growth numbers in March and uncertainty in the European economy are undermining prospects for a vigorous recovery.
"No one is anticipating that an upward path for housing will run in a straight-line trajectory," said Crowe. "The economy is in an uneven recovery and we can expect some corresponding ups-and-downs in the housing market in the months ahead. However, NAHB believes that on the whole, we can expect a slow and gradual recovery in housing starts, home sales and the overall housing market in 2012."