Remodelers at Risk for Fatal Falls

Residential remodeling is among the top three segments of residential construction to have workers suffer fatal injuries on the job, according to NAHB’s “Residential Construction Industry Fatalities 2003-2006” report.

The safety study evaluated the 1,385 work-related deaths that were reported in residential construction from 2003 to 2006.
Single-family housing construction workers ranked highest, with roofing contractors the next most likely to be fatally injured.
Nearly one-half of residential construction fatalities resulted from falls, and residential remodelers accounted for the third highest segment in the industry to have workers die from falls on the job. Fatal falls were most often from a roof, ladder and scaffolding.

Length of industry service also related to fatalities, with 47 percent of those fatally injured on the job employed with the company for less than one year.

The results suggest that the amount and quality of training influences fatality rates — with less experienced workers and workers with less training at greater risk of accidents and falls.

Remodeling fatalities data has been separated from residential building for the first time in the report, thanks to changes in the collection of government data. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not track self-employed remodelers, who comprise the majority of the industry. Self-employed remodeling fatality data is collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is then combined with the OSHA data.

Home Prices

Declines Continue in First Quarter

Standard & Poor’s S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices recorded a 14.1 percent decline in the first quarter of 2008 vs. the first quarter of 2007, the largest in the series’ 20-year history.

As a comparison, during the 1990-91 housing recession the annual rate bottomed at -2.8 percent. The 10-city and 20-city composites also set new records, with annual declines of -15.3 percent and -14.4 percent, respectively.

Most of the nation appears to remain on a downward path, with 19 of the 20 metro areas reporting annual declines, and six of those now at negative rates exceeding -20 percent. Fifteen of the metro areas are also reporting record lows, and 11 are in double-digit decline, with Chicago being the latest metro area to join these ranks.

The monthly data paints a similar picture, with 18 of the metro areas reporting at least seven consecutive months of negative returns.

For the first time in as many months, monthly price appreciation was up in two metro areas; Charlotte was up 0.2 percent in March over February, and Dallas was up 1.1 percent.

Las Vegas remains the weakest market, reporting an annual decline of -25.9 percent, followed by Miami and Phoenix at -24.6 percent and -23.0 percent, respectively.

Immigration Law

E-Verify Rule Challenged

A U.S. district judge ruled in June that sections in Oklahoma’s new immigration law likely interfere with federal rules regarding the hiring of unauthorized workers. The judge specifically addressed provisions that were to have taken effect July 1 and would have required employers doing business with the state of Oklahoma to use E-Verify to electronically verify worker eligibility.

Among those challenging the provision were the United States Chamber of Commerce, several city and state chambers of commerce, and hospitality industry associations, which contended the law places unreasonable burdens on businesses.

Existing-home Sales

Slow with Some Gains

Overall, existing-home sales slowed in April, partly because restrictive lending practices hampered home buyers, but at the same time, a greater number of areas are showing sales gains from a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

In addition, a recent reversal in mortgage policy means the market is better positioned for a turnaround, the association said.
Existing-home sales — including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops — declined 1.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million units in April from an upwardly revised pace of 4.94 million in March, and are 17.5 percent below the 5.93 million-unit level in April 2007.

The unusual mix of market conditions around the country continues, but areas showing healthy price gains include Greenville, S.C., and Springfield, Mo., both with solid local economies. “On the other hand, some markets like San Diego, Calif., and Fort Myers, Fla., are experiencing rising sales after sudden double-digit drops in local home prices, so lower prices and low interest rates are starting to generate results,” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said.

New-home Sales

Bounce-back is modest

Sales of newly built, single-family homes rose 3.3 percent in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 526,000 units, the U.S. Commerce Department reported. However, this gain reflected downward revisions to sales numbers reported for each of the previous three months, including a particularly large revision for March.

“The fact that new-home sales are up slightly from a dismal beginning to the spring home buying season in March isn’t much to celebrate,” said Sandy Dunn, president of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Point Pleasant, W. Va.

“The modest bounce-back in new-home sales recorded for April followed a sharp decline in March and belies the fundamental weakness that continues to exist in the nation’s housing market,” added NAHB chief economist David Seiders. “Indeed, sales were down 42 percent on a year-over-year basis, the largest such reversal since September 1981. Our latest builder surveys actually show that home buying has not yet stabilized, and we are anticipating some further erosion over the coming months.”

April’s preliminary sales pace of 526,000 units was equivalent to the previously reported sales pace for March. However, the Commerce Department revised March’s reading substantially downward to 509,000 units — 11 percent below the revised February reading.

Housing Affordability

Back to Pre-bubble Levels

Only eight out of 330 U.S. metropolitan housing markets can now be considered overvalued, down from 14 markets during the previous quarter and 53 metro areas in mid-2006, according to survey conducted for financial research firm Global Insight and banking company National City Corp.

The eight overvalued markets represent only 1 percent of the U.S. single family housing stock and 2 percent of total real estate value, down from 32 percent and 16 percent, respectively, from 2006. Areas of the Pacific Northwest, including Bend, Ore., and Longview, Wash., continued to be among the most overvalued. However, other areas once extremely overvalued — the Northeast and coastal California and Florida — are now rated as fairly valued.

“The large price adjustments we have seen are precisely what was required before we could begin to talk of recovery,” says James Diffley, group managing director of Global Insight’s Regional Services Group.

Additionally, a number of widely dispersed and mostly smaller markets throughout the country that had seen less price fluctuation during the boom years experienced price resilience. The top nine housing markets registering price increases this period all had populations less than 300,000 and were as varied as Ithaca, N.Y.; Billings, Mont.; Houma, La.; and Odessa, Texas.

Housing Starts

3.3 Percent Decline in May

New-home starts declined 3.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 975,000 units in May, the U.S. Commerce Department reported. This was the lowest total starts number since March of 1991. Single-family starts declined 1.0 percent to a rate of 674,000 units, their lowest since January of 1991.

“Today’s report clearly shows that the housing downswing is still underway, with systematic declines in both housing starts and building permits for May,” said NAHB chief economist David Seiders. “Evidence suggests that some pent-up demand is there, but Congress and the Administration need to do what they can to help release it. A temporary home buyer tax credit would be just the incentive that many qualified buyers need to go forward with their homeownership plans.”

While single-family starts fell 1 percent to a rate of 674,000 units in May, multifamily starts — which typically display significant month-to-month volatility — sank back 8 percent to a more realistic 301,000-unit rate following a substantial uptick in April.