Mother Nature Blasts Housing Starts, Permits

JWGreen, wikimedia commons. House covered in snow. If you're hoping that the federal home buyer tax credit will help you sell you home, be warned: Sometimes even massive federal subsidies can't beat Mother Nature.

The latest indicators of the health in the housing market tanked in February, as blizzards kept workers from starting work on new homes and the snow also kept developers from applying for new building permits, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census.

The construction of new homes and apartments fell to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 575,000 a year in February. That's down from 611,000 in January, though January was an unusually busy month. For most of the months of last year, housing starts ranged between 521,000 and 593,000.

So perhaps "tanked" is too strong. After all, both starts and permits have improved compared to 2009, one of the worst years on record. Let's call February's activity... disappointing.The rate of housing starts dropped in the Northeast by 9.6 percent and in the South 15.5 percent. Both regions were buried in snow in February. Housing starts rose in the Midwest by 10.6 percent and in the West by 7.9 percent.

Home builders also asked for fewer building permits in February, clocking a seasonalized annual rate of 612,000. The rate of permitting has fallen for the last two months from a high rate of 653,000 a year in December. However, the rate of permitting stayed under 589,000 a year for nearly all of 2009.

Housing boosters hoped that the $8,000 incentive provided by the federal tax credit - which expires in April - would keep the market speeding up, bad weather or not. Instead, our wimpy housing recovery keeps treading water.

Photo by JWGreen, wikimedia commons.
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