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New Home Sales Higher in January, but Affordability Issues Loom

Strong demand stemming from low interest rates, favorable demographics and a suburban shift for home building to smaller, more affordable housing markets helped to lift new home sales in January, but rising lumber and material costs threaten to blunt this momentum.

Sales of newly built, single-family homes in January rose 4.3 percent to a 923,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate, from an upwardly revised December reading, according to newly released data by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau

"Historically low mortgage rates and solid demand spurred an increase in new home sales in January, with the sales pace more than 19 percent higher than a year ago," says Chuck Fowke, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders. "However, rising affordability issues are looming this year, particularly increasing building material costs, including lumber, which is adding $24,000 to the price of a typical newly built home. Builders also cite rising regulatory issues as a potential concern."

"With existing home inventory at all-time lows, the demand for new construction remains strong," says Robert Dietz, NAHB chief economist. "Though, rising building and development costs, combined with recent increases in mortgage interest rates, threaten to exacerbate existing affordability conditions. Builders are exercising discipline to ensure home prices do not outpace buyer budgets."

Inventory remains low at a 4 months' supply, with 307,000 new single-family homes for sale, 6.3 percent lower than January 2020. 

The median sales price was $346,400, up 5.3 percent over the $328,900 median sales price posted a year earlier.