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From Home Furnishing Business

Statistically Speaking: 2023 Housing Faces Growing Household Formations, Low Home Inventories, and Rapid Apartment Building Growth

Consumer spending on furniture remained stronger than expected throughout the Fall of 2022, despite economic warning signals as the Fed tried to slow the economy. And nothing has stoked economic fears for the furniture industry quite like the sharp decline in the housing market this past year. During the first nine months of 2022 through October, the most current data at press time, new home sales fell 23.9% and existing home sales were down 31.7%.

The rapid increase in mortgage rates in the Fall of 2022 put what many feel was much-need pressure on the housing market to slow its pace of record price increases. However, prices have not decreased as much as expected as tight inventories have protected the industry from sharp declines. In addition, falling mortgages four weeks in a row to December 8 has not spurred demand. At press time, mortgage rates were 2X the rate in January of 2022, but home prices still 6% higher.

A correction may be ongoing, but fewer economists now suggest there will be a 2023 housing crash. Some even predict that slightly declining mortgage rates beginning in November may suggest the housing industry has weathered the worst of it. How long the correction will last is in large part in the hands of the Fed and whether additional rate increases are forthcoming. Current, existing home owners are sitting tight. Also, there is another wrench in the new housing crisis and subsequent recovery. New household formations are now accelerating while housing supply remains near historic lows, with not enough new construction in the pipeline.

All of these housing factors and their impact on the furniture industry are examined in more detail in this insallment of Statistically Speaking. Each housing factor discussed is divided into two sections – (1) the current situation, and (2) the future drivers going forward.

Mortgage Rates
Current Situation. In the first week in January of 2022, a 30-year fixed rate was at 3.22% and a 5/1 ARM 2.41%. Eleven months later, the fixed rate had more than doubled to 7.08% and the 5/1 ARM had jumped more to 6.06% (Table A). Since that height last November, mortgage rates have continued to drop four straight weeks (at press time) almost three-quarters of a point, the largest decline since 2008. Last December 8, a 30-year fixed rate dropped to 6.33%. Since November 11, the rate for 5/1 ARM exceeded the 30-year fixed and has no longer become attractive.

Future Drivers. While the decline in rates has been large, according to Freddie Mac, “homebuyer sentiment remains low with no major positive reaction in purchase demand to these lower rates.” Interest rates have priced many homebuyers out of the market. Couple that with inflation and economic fears, and homebuyers have chosen to sit this one out for a while.

New and Existing Home Sales Current Situation. The surge in home sales that began during the pandemic and continued through 2021 peaked in January 2022 at a combined 7.3 million new and existing units (annualized). Both new home sales and existing homes sales have been in free fall since then. During the first nine months of last year through October, the most current data at press time, new home sales fell 23.9% and existing home sales were down 31.7% (Table B). Low inventories and declining pending homes sales data suggest November and December continued the trend.

Future Drivers. Besides the stability of mortgage rates, the key drivers for housing demand going forward include, among others, new household formations, consumer confidence, the affordability of housing, and new construction on the horizon, which is examined in more detail later in this article.

Home Prices
Current Situation. Housing prices, both new and existing homes sold, have been skyrocketing, especially since 2019. The annual median price of a new home increased 41.1% between 2019 and October 2022 YTD while existing home prices grew 42.2% during the same period. (Table C). Despite falling home sales throughout the summer, prices continued to grow, but softened for existing home sales with rising interest rates. New home prices slowed briefly with the impact of higher rates, but the median price of a new home in October was still $493,000, a new record. This price was 8.2% above the prior month of September following a two-month slump after recession fears surfaced in the media and larger interest rate increases became evident. October new home sales prices were also up 15.4% over October 2021. Meanwhile, the median price of existing homes sold fell in October for the fourth straight month from its peak in June of last year. October's median existing home price of $379,100 was 8.4% below June's record of $413,000.

Future Drivers. Low inventories should keep prices from falling significantly, especially if interest rates stabilize. More importantly will be whether the economy responds to anti-recessionary efforts by the Fed.

Housing Inventories Current Situation. Low housing inventories have been a hot topic over the last three years as one of the prime drivers of increasing home and rent prices. During the buying frenzy beginning in 2020 through October of last year, inventories for housing units for sale dropped 56.7% and available rental units declined 16.3% (Table D). But as housing demand has slowed in recent months, months’ supply of inventory has increased as this factors into available inventory and current demand, which has been low.

Future Drivers. New construction of homes and apartments and slower demand are the two key drivers of inventory levels and also key to easing the housing price wars. Unfortunately, in 2023, especially in housing units for sale, current housing starts don’t appear to be high enough to appreciably impact inventory without a sharp decline in demand.

Housing Construction Permits and Starts
Current Situation. It takes a while to permit, start, and complete a new home or condo (seven or eight months per the Census Bureau). And an apartment building takes well over 1-1/2 years (17.5 months per the National Association of Home Builders). The length of the process provides a unique window into the future inventory of new homes and apartments.

For single-family homes and condos, building permits were issued in a frenzy and new units started beginning in the summer of 2020 and peaked at the end of 2022. About 50% of building units permitted are started within the same month and 90% are underway within two months. Therefore, housing and apartment starts track closely alongside permits. Single family starts peaked in the winter at the end of 2020 at 1.3 million annualized units but were down to 855,000 starts by October of last year. Total starts for the first nine months of 2022 were down 6.6% over 2021. Meanwhile, multi-family apartment starts stayed strong at 612,000 last April (Table E). Year-over-year October 2022 YTD total average multifamily unit starts are up 17.5%. Future Drivers. Home and apartment builders, much more so than existing home sellers, have to look into their crystal balls as the housing demand landscape may have changed by the time a project is started to completion. Understanding changing demographics is essential to the planning that goes into building, especially since the pandemic. For example, is there a trend toward moving out of the city and into the suburbs? Or, what is the affordability picture for younger households? No matter the current consumer demand, mortgage rate or inflation rate today, new home and apartment inventories were set in stone months ago for new homes and much earlier for apartments.

Housing Completions
Current Situation. With the flurry of building in 2020 and early 2021, new homes and condo completions remained strong in most of 2022 through September and then began to decline, as economic uncertainty set in (Table F). New homes were completed in the first nine months of 2022 at an average annualized rate of 1 million, which was 5.3% higher than the first nine months of 2021. Meanwhile multi-family completions, which had begun construction over 1-1/2 years prior, slowed slightly in 2022 to an average annualized rate of 343,000 for the first nine months, down 6.5% compared to the first nine months of 2021.

Future Drivers. Table F also shows estimated new home completions through the first six months of 2023 based on what is already in the pipeline, and the picture is not pretty. Based on starts seven to eight months prior, new home completions in the first six months of this year are estimated to decline a total of 26% in annualized units.

Multi-family units will pick up some of the slack in housing as there will be more apartment units built this year since the mid1980s (Table F). Buildings begun over 1-1/2 years ago, should come online growing an estimated 33% in total annualized units over the first six months of this year compared to 2022. The second half of this year could bring another 24% growth in units over the first half of 2023. With the high number of apartment completions coming this year, the furniture industry has an opportunity not seen in years, to market apartment-suited home furnishings, especially to the 25 to 39 year age group, which is growing rapidly.

Regional Outlook
The one-year growth in housing starts by region gives us a glimpse of what we might see in the months ahead for new houses and the longer future of multi-family apartment buildings. Compared to the first nine months of 2021, total new home starts were down 6.6% and multi-family starts were up 17.5%. One-year growth for new home starts declined in all regions, with the Northeast dropping the most by 15.6%. The Midwest was down 6.3% in one-year new home starts with the South declining 5.1% and the West 8.0%. All regions posted very good growth in multi-family apartment building starts during the same period, except for the West which was up only 2.7% for the first nine months of 2022 compared to 2021 (Table G).

Household Formations
Current Situation. The population has been growing for many years in the 25 to 39 age group as Millennials flooded into adulthood. However, numbers have been declining for the 40 to 54 group, the households in their prime earning years. Last year there were 7.5 million more people in the younger Millennial age group than the older adults (Table H). The Census Bureau is also reporting unexpected growth in new households coming out of the pandemic for younger adults.

Future Drivers. According to the Census Bureau, the demographics will change dramatically over the next 10 years impacting the housing and furniture needs of households under 55 in ways not seen since the Baby Boomers came on the scene. In 10 years, it is estimated the total population ages 25 to 54 will grow by 8.9 million, and almost half will be in their prime furniture buying years by then. This explosion of households will be the subject of an upcoming issue of Statistically Speaking.

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