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Homebuilder confidence improved in December as mortgage rates continued to fall, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index released Monday.

Builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes rose for the first time in four months, climbing to 37 on the index, amid lower mortgage rates and improved economic data that have builders feeling more optimistic heading into 2024.

The monthly index looks at current sales, buyer traffic and the outlook for sales of new-construction homes over the next six months.

Builder sentiment began dropping in August, and in September the index dropped below the break-even measure of 50 and has been there since.

“The housing market appears to have passed peak mortgage rates for this cycle, and this should help to spur homebuyer demand in the coming months, with the HMI component measuring future sales expectations up six points in December,” said Robert Dietz, chief economist at NAHB, in a statement.

The pessimism in builder confidence this fall has gone in the opposite direction of gains for the pace of single-family building permits and new construction housing starts, Dietz said.

A temporary and outsized gap between homebuilders’ sentiment and housing starts can occur after interest rates rise dramatically, as they did this fall, which also increases the costs builders face for things like land development and builder loans, he said.

“Higher financing costs for homebuilders and land developers add another headwind for housing supply in a market low on resale inventory.”

Even as the Federal Reserve is fighting inflation, Dietz said he’d like to see state and local policymakers help by reducing the regulatory burdens on the cost of land development and homebuilding, which would allow a more attainable housing supply to come to the market.

“Looking forward, as rates moderate, this temporary difference between sentiment and construction activity will decline,” he said.

Even during this seasonally slow time of year in the housing market, the index shows that traffic of prospective buyers looking at new homes rose three points to 27. The component measuring sales expectations in the next six months increased six points to 45 and the component charting current sales condition held steady at 40.

“With mortgage rates down roughly 50 basis points over the past month, builders are reporting an uptick in traffic as some prospective buyers who previously felt priced out of the market are taking a second look,” said Alicia Huey, NAHB chairman, in a statement.

“With the nation facing a considerable housing shortage, boosting new home production is the best way to ease the affordability crisis, expand housing inventory and lower inflation,” Huey said.

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