Privately owned housing starts in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 2.12 million, or 7.9 percent below the revised January estimate and 4.8 percent below the February 2005 rate, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today.

Privately owned housing units authorized by building permits in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 2.15 million, or 3.2 percent below the revised January rate and 2.5 percent above the February 2005 estimate.

Single-family authorizations in February were at a rate of about 1.64 million, or 3 percent below the January figure. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 417,000 in February.

Single-family housing starts in February were at a rate of about 1.8 million, or 2.3 percent below the January figure. The February rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 275,000, the agencies reported.

Multifamily housing starts fell 30.4 percent to 320,000 units in February after posting a level of 460,000 units in January.

Privately owned housing completions in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 2.02 million, or 1.7 percent below the revised January estimate and 5.2 percent above the February 2005 rate.

Single-family housing completions in February were at a rate of about 1.7 million, or 2.4 percent above the January figure. The February rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 241,000.

David Pressly, president of the National Association of Home Builders trade group, said in a statement, “Today’s starts numbers are another indicator that points towards an orderly cooling down process for the housing market in 2006.”

And NAHB Chief Economist David Seiders stated, “So far this year, housing starts have received a boost from unusually mild winter weather, even in February, and we expect to see these numbers move further down in the months ahead.”

He added, “Indicators that measure housing demand – home sales, applications for home mortgages and our own survey of single-family builders – show that the cooling process has begun. Furthermore, single-family permits, which are less affected by weather than single-family starts, have been trailing down gradually from their highs last fall.”

Regionally, construction of new homes and apartments for the month was down 23.5 percent in the Northeast, 10.4 percent in the Midwest and 11.2 percent in the South. Starts posted a 7.9 percent gain in the West, the home builders’ group noted.

The Census Bureau and HUD noted that month-to-month changes in seasonally adjusted statistics can show irregular movement. It can take four months to establish an underlying trend for building permit authorizations, six months for total starts, and six months for total completions. Statistics are estimated from sample surveys and are subject to sampling variability as well as non-sampling error including bias and variance from response, non-reporting, and under-coverage, according to the report.

On average, the preliminary seasonally adjusted estimates of total building permits, housing starts and housing completions are revised about 1 percent.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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