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Behind The Housing Starts Headlines, The Story That Matters

January 20, 2012

Housing Starts 2010-2011

When it comes to housing data, sometimes you have to look past the headlines. December’s Housing Starts data offers a terrific illustration of why.

Each month, the Census Bureau tallies Housing Starts for the month prior. A “housing start” is a home on which construction has started.

The Housing Starts report is separated by property type. There is a count for single-family homes; a count for 2-4 unit homes; and a count for buildings of 5 units or more, a category including apartments and condominiums.

In December, as reported by the government, Housing Starts fell 4 percent nationwide overall. This runs contrary to recent strength in housing and the story was quickly picked up by the press :

Now, although these headlines are factually true, they’re also are a little bit misleading.

Housing Starts did fall 4 percent last month but that was for all Housing Starts, across all three property types. Data like this is somewhat irrelevant to home buyers nationwide.

Few buyers purchase 2-4 unit homes, and almost nobody purchases an entire apartment building. Rather, it’s the Housing Starts reports’ “single-family” tally that matters because that’s the home type that the majority of home buyers purchase.

In December, for the fourth straight month, Single-Family Housing Starts increased.

Single-family housing starts climbed 4 percent last month to 470,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. This is the highest number of Single-Family Housing Starts since April 2010 — the last month of last year’s home buyer tax credit.

The Single-Family Housing Starts data is the latest in a series of data that point to a housing rebound nationwide. New Home Sales, Existing Home Sales, Pending Home Sales and Homebuilder Confidence has each posted multi-month highs and all are poised for strong gains into 2012.

If you’re planning to buy a home in 2012, consider buying in between now and March rather than at some point later. Home prices — and mortgage rates- are likely to move higher.

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