Uncertainties in the economy and the post-Katrina environment eroded single-family home builders’ confidence slightly, but overall confidence is still high, according to the latest National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, released today. The index dropped two points to 65 in September, its lowest level since July 2003 when it also hit 65.

“Many builders appear to be taking on a more cautious attitude because of uncertainties in the economy and this post-Katrina environment, particularly with regard to sales expectations in the near term,” said Dave Wilson, NAHB president and a custom home builder from Ketchum, Idaho.

The overall HMI declined two points in September to a score of 65. This was the third consecutive month of declines since June’s 72 reading.

“As expected, the housing market is beginning to show signs of cooling and builders are reacting to that,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Seeders.

Seeders said that though the HMI survey was taken immediately after Hurricane Katrina in early September, a combination of factors are likely in play, and Katrina impacts are only one part of the equation. He said that the current HMI does not include responses from Katrina-hit areas, which typically account for about 2 percent of survey responses.

Factors uniting to “take a bite” out of builder optimism looking forward include rising interest rates, buyer resistance to the strong house-price appreciation seen for several years, higher gas prices, lot shortages and high impact fees for development, Seeders said.

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for approximately 20 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as either “good,” “fair” or “poor.”

The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as either “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.

The September HMI’s component indexes gauging current sales and traffic of prospective buyers registered marginal declines of one and three points (to 72 and 47, respectively). However, the component gauging sales expectations for the next six months declined by a more substantial eight points, to 69. Additionally, builder confidence measures were down by an equal margin of three points in each of the four major regions.

“Keep in mind that builder confidence is still well above the break-even point of 50 on the HMI, and more respondents are reporting good conditions than bad in their markets,” noted Seeders. “Even so, today’s results show that builders are cognizant of the anticipated signs of slowing housing activity in certain areas.”

The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index is solely the product of the home builders’ association and is not influenced by any other party.

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