MARLTON, NJ – While the pandemic may have slowed down many sectors of the economy, the residential housing market has held strong and will continue to thrive in 2021, post-pandemic.
That’s the assessment of a leading TD Bank economist, who recently provided an economic forecast for construction professionals, part of a Fall webinar series hosted by BCA Insurance Group and Avrio Solutions, which specialize, respectively, in insurance/bonding and accounting services for contractors. Pent-up demand during the shutdown, along with historically low interest rates, were the prime movers in the uptick in single-family homes.
That demand hasn’t carried over to multi-family dwellings, such as apartment complexes, noted Admir Kolaj, who’s been with TD since 2013 and whose analyses are frequently quoted in the financial press. Since the pandemic began, single family starts are up around 13 percent from the pre-pandemic peak, while multi-family starts are down about 40 percent from their pre-pandemic peak. He attributed this in part to the virus-fueled but continuing migration of people from city living to the more socially distance-friendly environs of the suburbs. Existing homes too have fared well, with low inventory helping to prop up prices.
“Fast-rising prices and low inventory are generally good signs for home builders, and those focused on the single family market are feeling very confident,” said Lawrence D. Cohen, executive vice president of BCA Insurance Group. “Sales should hold steady for the first half of 2021, and the number of prospective buyers will continue to outpace the number of homes available during that time period, even as multi-family construction continues to stagnate.”
The BCA Insurance/Avrio Solutions webinar on Dec. 1, 2020, highlighted several other economic trends:
Commercial project starts will continue to struggle under the weight of the pandemic
Enforced closures and consumers shopping much more online have contributed to increased vacancies in retail. Office vacancies have risen too as more people work from home during COVID, a trend that will likely continue even after the pandemic ends.
Gross Domestic Product is down and will take time to rebound
GDP, a key indicator of economic vitality, was actually better through the third quarter of 2020 than anyone had reason to expect, but it will take time before that metric returns to a pre-pandemic level. Kolaj pointed out that the 10 percent drop in GDP in the first half of last year portends a giant hole from which the economy will need to dig out. The distribution of COVID vaccines represents a light at the end of the tunnel, and GDP could grow by 4 or 5 percent depending on whether Congress passes additional economic relief packages.
Elections have consequences, in this case good ones
While the makeup of the Senate remains undecided, President Biden can take executive action on trade, immigration and environmental regulations that will have positive long-term effects on GDP and, as a result, lead to more economic growth and a net positive on housing and construction. Further, if a friendly Congress implements his economic agenda, $2 trillion dollars earmarked for public projects would get off the ground over the next 10 years, a shot in the arm for clean energy and infrastructure projects.
Home buyer tax credit could further accelerate new home starts
The new administration plans a first-time home buyer tax credit of $15,000. This will make home buying more affordable, as it can significantly help with down payments, and that will be a further boon to the housing market.
Low interest rates are here to stay, for awhile
Exceptionally low rates can help builders directly and indirectly. For companies that carry debt or leverage debt to finance their operations, lower rates cut down on their costs and boosts profit margin. And low rates help out other areas of economy, so home buyers, for example, can keep single-home builders thriving, and home owners can renovate to add more space for working at home.
The insurance market is experiencing a generational tightening
Cohen notes that there have been significant increases in premiums in certain areas like auto coverage and excess liability. Contractors need to be mindful of these cost increases when bidding on jobs.
Borrowing might not always be the right choice
With interest rates so low, construction company owners might be tempted to invest in new equipment, to take advantage of the rates and diminish their tax bill. But Steve Beppel, CPA and founder of Avrio Solutions, cautions against making snap decisions.
“Borrowing to finance equipment that’s not going to be used much might not make sense, and will certainly outweigh potential tax benefits,” he says. “It can be a balancing act, so you should consult your trusted professional to figure out what’s right for your business.”