Housing Starts Jump Dramatically in March; Building Permits Fall

(Los Angeles Times/MCT) -
Workers take advantage of the region's mild weather, as they prepare a house to be repainted near New Vernon, N.J. Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Workers take advantage of the region’s mild weather, as they prepare a house to be repainted near New Vernon, N.J. Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

New residential construction rose significantly in March as builders started more multi-unit dwellings.

Housing starts rose 7 percent from upwardly revised February figures to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,036,000, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. The rate was 46.7 percent higher than March 2012.

Housing starts jumped higher than economists polled by Bloomberg News expected, after the Commerce Department said builders started many more units in February than previously thought.

The department revised February starts to an annual rate of 968,000 from 917,000.

As home prices rose last year and continued their upward trajectory this year, builders have increasingly looked to raise money and put up new homes, decisions that will boost jobs in construction as well as related industries. Last week, Arizona builder Taylor Morrison Home Corp. went public.

But while multifamily building was up in March, single-family housing starts dropped 4.8 percent compared with the previous month.

Building permits, an indication of future building, also were down, dropping 3.9 percent from February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 902,000, although they were up 17.3 percent from March of last year.

As homebuilders look to capitalize on the low inventory that has lifted prices, they are racing to catch up after years of anemic building.

The National Association of Home Builders said Monday that builder confidence fell this month, the third consecutive decline. Developers cited rising construction costs and the lack of developed lots as concerns.

Still, builders expressed growing optimism in future sales, as expectations for the next six months reached the highest level in more than six years.

Compared with February, housing starts fell in the Northeast but rose in the Midwest, South and West.