Springfield News-Leader: Housing Market Picks Up

March 18, 2009
Housing Market Picks Up
More people re interested in houses again in the Springfield area, HBA executive director says
However, experts view the surge as a temporary gain.
Martin Crutsinger
The Associated Press

Washington — Housing construction posted a surprisingly large increase in February, bolstered by strength in all parts of the country except the West. 

While the surge in construction was far better than the continued decline economists expected, experts viewed it as a temporary gain given all the problems the housing industry still faces.

The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that construction of new homes and apartments jumped 22.2 percent in February compared with January, pushing total activity to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 583,000 units.
Greene County construction permits for those months don’t reflect significant growth.
The county issued four single-family home permits in January, compared with five in February. It issued permits for two duplexes and three eight-unit apartment buildings in January and no multifamily or apartment-commercial permits in February. (The numbers reflect all unincorporated areas of the county and any cities that don’t track building permits.)
Springfield records for January and February are not yet updated since a virus hit city computers.
Winter weather likely crimped construction permits around Springfield, said Matt Morrow, executive director of the Springfield Home Builders Association. But he said Realtors, developers and builders report they are seeing more traffic at open houses, more phones ringing and more home closings in the last 45 days.
“Nothing happened at the turn of the (new 2009) calendar, and within 45 days all of a sudden people are interested in houses again,” Morrow said.
“That doesn’t mean we’re in a housing boom, but it does mean we’re getting a heartbeat again.”
After news of the U.S upturn, investors reignited Wall Street’s rally, snapping up financial and homebuilder stocks among others. The Dow Jones industrial average and other major indexes all finished with gains of more than 2 percent.
The protracted housing downturn, rising foreclosures and a deepening recession have battered homebuilders and scared off many potential buyers.
“Building permits are indicating that starts could improve modestly in coming months, but we believe the reprieve will be short-lived,” Soleil Securities Group analyst Anna Torma wrote in a research note.

Even with the big increase, construction activity remains 47.3 percent below where it was a year ago. The strength in February was led by a sharp gain in apartment construction, which can be highly volatile from month to month.