Homebuilder sentiment index unchanged in November

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2009 2:22 PM

A key gauge of homebuilders' confidence held steady in November, reflecting a cautious outlook from residential developers as they waited to learn whether Congress would extend a homebuyer tax credit.

The National Association of Home Builders said Tuesday this month's housing market index stood at 17 for the second month in a row.

A federal tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time homebuyers has helped stoke sales this year, but it was set to expire Nov. 30. Congress extended the incentive earlier this month, after most of the builders had responded to the latest NAHB survey.

"Today's report confirms that homebuilders and buyers were in something of a holding pattern in early November as the anticipated expiration of the tax credit drew near and congressional action had not yet taken place to address this," said David Crowe, the NAHB's chief economist.

Now first-time buyers can claim the credit if they sign a contract by April 30 and close the deal by the end of June. Lawmakers also expanded the program to include a $6,500 credit for existing homeowners who have lived in their current residence for at least five years.

The extension of the credit became a top priority for housing groups in recent months as the impact of the incentive began to wane by September. As a result, new home sales in September dropped 3.6 percent nationwide _ the first decline since March.

The NAHB alone spent about $2.9 million so far this year on lobbying efforts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Builders also are expected to benefit from the expansion of a law providing refunds for money-losing businesses that paid taxes on profits during the past five years.

In the weeks since the tax credit was extended, some builders, including Beazer Homes USA Inc., have said they're gearing up to buy land in some markets, citing expectations that sales will improve next year.

In the latest NAHB survey, the reading for current sales conditions was unchanged at 17. Traffic by prospective buyers stood at 13. Builders' outlook for sales over the next six months improved by two points to 28.

The index reflects a survey of 513 residential developers nationwide. Index readings below 50 indicate negative sentiment about the market. The last time it was above 50 was in April 2006.