NEW YORK (
) -- The housing market saw sales ramp up in March and April as consumers rushed to take advantage of tax credits that offered as much as $8,000 for first-time homebuyers and $6,500 for repeat buyers. Following the expiration of those credits on April 30, the market saw a dramatic decline in demand for the month of May that spilled over into June. Lawmakers later extended the deadline to close on a home purchase and still qualify for the tax credit to Sept. 30.
The rush of homebuyers looking to take advantage of federal tax credits helped homebuilders like
grow new home sales by strong double-digit percentages last quarter.
D.R. Horton and M.D.C. Holdings outpaced sector peers on volume -- growing closed sales volume by 60% to 6,805 homes and 71% to 1,135 homes, respectively, in the second quarter -- primarily due to their willingness to go out and build spec homes, explained Stifel Nicolaus analyst Michael R. Widner. In other words, they were willing to take the risk of building new home inventory without contracted buyers in place. That bet paid off as hoards of buyers showed up in April wanting to take advantage of the credits, and were willing to make a rushed deal to qualify.
Beazer Homes USA
said traffic and new home orders were well above year-earlier results through the end of April, but after the tax credits expired, traffic in May and June was substantially lower.
said last week its
closing volume doubled last quarter
to 5,030 homes thanks in part to the tax credit.
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While spec building helped D.R. Horton and M.D.C. Holdings, among others, grow sales volumes in the run-up to the deadline, the pair may now face a new risk of having overbuilt, potentially overexposing themselves to excess inventory now flooding the market.
The Commerce Department estimated
, the lowest level of inventory in more than 40 years. Still, it would take 7.6 months to sell through that inventory at the current sales pace, down from 9.6 months in May. Six months of inventory is considered normal market conditions.
to a seasonally adjusted rate of 330,000, ahead of expectations, from a revised record-low rate 267,000 units sold in May.
While any increase in the rate of home sales is seen as a good sign for the economy and housing market in general, the uptick in June home sales still represented the second-weakest month on record after May's depressed figures. It was also 76.3% lower than the 1.4 million-peak in July 2005, at the height of the housing bubble.
The consensus view among analysts and homebuilders is that the June figures were "unsustainably low," Widner said, but the question of how long the current pace of sales will last, or how much higher a sustainable rate of sales would need to be, remains.
Widner estimated that a longer-term norm would be around 800,000 new home sales per year, more than double the U.S. housing market's recently reported pace. Based on excess vacancies currently in the market, Widner believes the pace of new home sales won't return to that ideal level until around 2014, over three years from now. Clearly, it's not a simple or quick fix.
"The government expended extremely high amounts of effort to try and stabilize the housing market and keep home prices from falling further," Widner said. "I don't think after all that they'll walk away if things start to deteriorate again."
Still, most homebuilder sector analysts agree that home prices will continue to slide in the range of 5% to 10% before picking back up again, though bears will argue the drop will be closer to 25%.
In a stable housing market, there will not be another stimulus like the homebuyers' tax credit. But most market watchers recognize that without housing stability there will be no economic recovery.
All of which begs the question: Do you think the U.S. government should institute another homebuyer tax credit? Take our poll below and see what readers of
-- Reported by Miriam Marcus Reimer from New York.
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