Small Gain for Custom Home Building During 1Q20

NAHB’s analysis of Census Data from the Quarterly Starts and Completions by Purpose and Design survey indicates custom home building posted a small increase during the first three months of the year, supported by low interest rates and unseasonably mild weather in January and February. While housing construction starts declined in March, and considerably more in April, on net the first quarter was a positive one for custom home builders.

There were 32,000 total custom building starts during the first quarter of 2020. This marks a 10% gain over the first quarter 2019 total of 29,000. Over the last four quarters, custom housing starts totaled 180,000, which was a 3% increase over the prior four quarter total of 170,000 starts.

As measured on a one-year moving average, the market share of custom home building in terms of total single-family starts is now 20%, down from a cycle high of 31.5% set during the second quarter of 2009.

Note that this definition of custom home building does not include homes intended for sale, so the analysis uses a narrow definition of the sector.

The onset of the housing crisis and the Great Recession interrupted a 15-year long trend away from homes built on the eventual owner’s land. As housing production slowed in 2006 and 2007, the market share of this not-for-sale new housing increased as the number of single-family starts declined. The share increased because the credit crunch made it more difficult for builders to obtain AD&C credit, thus producing relatively greater production declines of for-sale single-family housing.

As the economy experiences a recession in 2020 due to government-imposed lockdowns for virus mitigation, single-family spec construction will slow more than custom building. Thus, we can expect an increase in the share of custom building for single-family starts in the quarters ahead.

NAHB Eye On Housing article written by Robert Dietz on May 19, 2020