More homebuilders lower prices, sentiment falls for ninth straight month

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A worker walks on the roof of a new home under construction in Carlsbad, California.

Mike Blake | Reuters

More builders are lowering prices for homes as their confidence in the market continues to tumble.

Homebuilder sentiment in September fell three points to 46 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. Anything below 50 is considered negative.

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That is the ninth straight month of declines and the lowest level since may of 2014, with the exception of a short-lived drop at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Sentiment was at 83 in January of this year, when interest rates were about half of what they are now.

Indeed, builders blame rising rates for their falling sentiment. The average on the 30-year fixed started this year around 3% and then began rising steadily, crossing 6% for a few days in June, according to Mortgage News Daily. It then fell back a bit and almost hit 5% in August, before rising sharply again, back over 6% this month. That made an already pricey housing market even less affordable. The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, is expected to again raise its benchmark rate this week as inflation remains high.

“Buyer traffic is weak in many markets as more consumers remain on the sidelines due to high mortgage rates and home prices that are putting a new home purchase out of financial reach for many households,” said NAHB Chairman Jerry Konter, a home builder and developer from Savannah, Geogia.

Nearly a quarter of homebuilders also reported lowering home prices, up from 19% in August, Konter added.

Of the index’s three components, current sales conditions dropped three points to 54, sales expectations in the next six months fell one point to 46 and buyer traffic fell one point to 31.

Builders continue to report elevated construction costs, in addition to higher interest rates weighing on their market. Higher costs for land, labor and materials have made it harder for builders to lower prices, but they are now being forced to.

“In this soft market, more than half of the builders in our survey reported using incentives to bolster sales, including mortgage rate buydowns, free amenities and price reductions,” said Robert Dietz, NAHB’s chief economist.

On a three-month moving average, sentiment in the Northeast fell five points to 51 and also dropped five points to 44 in the Midwest. In the South, it fell seven points to 56, and in the West, where home prices are highest, sentiment declined 10 points to 41.

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