Total Texas housing sales kicked off the year with a 3 percent improvement, surpassing 38,500 sales to an all-time high. Fort Worth was the only major region within the state where the metric decreased relative to December 2020, although the trend in activity across both sections of the North Texas Metroplex flattened. On the supply side, inventory fell to critically low levels, while new construction indicators stumbled. Combined with dwindling listings, solid demand during low mortgage rates pushed median home price growth up by double-digit percentage increases. Overall, housing demand is expected to remain healthy in 2021 as vaccine rollouts continue, and the approval of a third federal stimulus package aids the economic recovery. Depleted inventory is the greatest challenge to Texas’ housing market, assuming the pandemic is contained.
The Texas Residential Construction Cycle (Coincident) Index, which measures current construction levels, ticked up as construction values, employment, and wages improved. The Residential Construction Leading Index also continued on an upward trajectory due to overall elevated building permits and housing starts despite a monthly contraction in January, pointing toward higher construction activity in the coming months. Similarly, the metropolitan leading indexes indicated future activity to be favorable. Only in Houston did the metric flatten.
Recently released fourth-quarter private bank loan data indicated net residential loans decreased 1.1 percent quarter over quarter (QOQ) at the end of 2020 after lending standards tightened throughout the year due to pandemic-related economic uncertainty. Construction investment for one-to-four units led with a third consecutive quarterly decline. Large multifamily projects (buildings consisting of five or more units) flattened at its 2Q2020 series high of $8.9 billion.
Single-family construction permits dropped 8.1 percent from a record high in December. Austin issued 1,940 nonseasonally adjusted permits, exceeding its 2006 average in per capita terms, as did Dallas-Fort Worth. The metro topped the national list with 4,330 permits despite declining in January after adjusting for seasonality. Houston’s metric also stabilized after a strong end to the year, resulting in 4,258 permits. On the other hand, issuance in San Antonio increased for the fifth consecutive month to more than 1,200 permits. In Texas’ multifamily sector, permits trended upward after sluggish activity in 2020 when the pandemic shifted focus away from the apartment sector.
Althoughthe Department of Commerce lowered tariffs on Canadian lumber from 20 to 9 percent at year end, lumber prices increased for the second straight month to an unprecedented level in January. Amid rising homebuilder costs, total Texas housing starts fell 4.8 percent as the single-family sector accounted for reduced activity in the southern region of the U.S. Lumber prices are expected to remain volatile in 2021, pressuring housing affordability in conjunction with robust housing demand. Reflecting monthly fluctuations in starts, single-family private construction values decreased 8.5 percent. The metric declined in DFW and Houston but ticked up in Central Texas.
Increased sales and a downward correction in new listings after activity recovered in the second half of 2020 pulled Texas’ months of inventory (MOI) down to an all-time low of 1.7 months. A total MOI around six months is considered a balanced housing market. Inventory for homes priced less than $300,000 was even more constrained, dropping below 1.3 months. Even the MOI for luxury homes (homes priced more than $500,000) slid to 3.2 months compared with 6.1 months a year ago.
The supply situation in Austin was especially critical, with the MOI trending down for two consecutive years to just half a month. Despite modest expansions in San Antonio’s and Houston’s inventory for homes priced less than $200,000, the overall metric fell to 1.7 and 2.2 months, respectively. In Fort Worth, the MOI ticked down to 1.2 months as contractions in the supply of active listings offset slower sales activity. The Dallas metric was not far behind, slipping to 1.3 months.