After snowstorms largely halted U.S. residential construction earlier this year, warmer weather will most likely cause a significant uptick in U.S. housing starts in March.
Economists surveyed by Bloomberg posted a median estimate of 1.04 million housing starts in March – a potential 15.9 percent increase from February’s 897,000.
Housing starts fell 17 percent in February primarily because of record-low temperatures and heavy snowfall in the Midwest and Northeast.
But there are signs of pent-up demand: builders applied for 1.092 million permits in February – a 3 percent increase from January.
When the weather improved in March, homebuilders started construction on the projects they had postponed, said Richard Moody, Chief Economist at Regions Financial Corporation.
“Payback is the order of the day here as frozen ground stopped February starts cold,” said Moody.
Moody predicts that housing starts will jump to 1.106 million units in March – a potential 23.3 percent increase.
A rebound in housing starts seems inevitable: the issue now is a matter of degree rather than kind, said Robert Stein, deputy chief economist at First Trust Advisors.
“After a month of unusually bad weather,” said Stein, “some builders may want to focus on continuing to construct, or even complete, the homes that they already started.”
Although Stein is more bearish on starts than his Bloomberg peers, he still expects a 13.3 percent increase in March to 1.016 million units.
Certain fundamentals support a continued, steady increase in residential construction during 2015, most notably housing formation, which hit 1.3 million at the end of 2014, according to U.S. Census Housing Vacancy Survey.
Many young people moved out of their parents’ basements to find a place of their own in 2014. And the majority of those young people will opt to rent rather than buy– but there are fewer and fewer places available: the U.S. apartment vacancy rate recently dropped to 4.1 percent in the first quarter of this year, according housing researchers, Reis Inc.
On top of that, homebuilders completed only 883,800 individual housing units during 2014 – the highest total since 2008, but less than half of the 1,979,400 units completed in 2006.
Add it all up – plus the number of homes lost each year to fire, natural disasters and obsolescence – and there are simply not enough homes to fit the growing housing need, said Russell Price, senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Inc.
“In the last few years, we were absorbing the excess that was built during the housing bubble, but we’ve absorbed all that now,” said Price. “So demographically, we just need some place to put all these people.”
The increase in residential construction over the next few years should provide a lift for the economy, said Price.
“Housing is the part of the economy I am least concerned about,” said Price, who predicts 1.04 million starts in March. “The housing recovery has been so slow that it will actually draw out the positive contributions for a couple of years.”