When it comes to housing data, sometimes you have to look past the headlines. December's Housing Starts data offers a terrific illustration of why.
Each month, the Census Bureau tallies Housing Starts for the month prior. A "housing start" is a home on which construction has started.
The Housing Starts report is separated by property type. There is a count for single-family homes; a count for 2-4 unit homes; and a count for buildings of 5 units or more, a category including apartments and condominiums.
In December, as reported by the government, Housing Starts fell 4 percent nationwide overall. This runs contrary to recent strength in housing and the story was quickly picked up by the press :
- U.S. Housing Starts Fall More Than Forecast (BusinessWeek)
- U.S. Housing Starts Fall (MarketWatch)
- December Housing Starts Are Worse Than Expected (Fox Business)
Now, although these headlines are factually true, they're also are a little bit misleading.
Housing Starts did fall 4 percent last month but that was for all Housing Starts, across all three property types. Data like this is somewhat irrelevant to home buyers in Utah or anywhere else nationwide.
Few buyers purchase 2-4 unit homes, and almost nobody purchases an entire apartment building. Rather, it's the Housing Starts reports' "single-family" tally that matters because that's the home type that the majority of home buyers purchase.
In December, for the fourth straight month, Single-Family Housing Starts increased.
Single-family housing starts climbed 4 percent last month to 470,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. This is the highest number of Single-Family Housing Starts since April 2010 -- the last month of last year's home buyer tax credit.
The Single-Family Housing Starts data is the latest in a series of data that point to a housing rebound nationwide. New Home Sales, Existing Home Sales, Pending Home Sales and Homebuilder Confidence has each posted multi-month highs and all are poised for strong gains into 2012.
If you're planning to buy a home in 2012, consider buying in between now and March rather than at some point later. Home prices -- and mortgage rates- are likely to move higher.