WASHINGTON -- U.S. home construction slipped a bit in May as a sharp drop in single-family construction was only partially offset by a rise in apartment building.
The Commerce Department said Tuesday that construction was started at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.27 million homes and apartments, a decline of 0.9% from April when construction starts had risen a strong 6.8 %. Applications for building permits, a good sign of future activity, edged up 0.3% in May to an annual rate of 1.29 million.
Construction of single-family homes fell 6.4% in April while construction of apartments rose 10.9%.
Falling mortgage rates are expected to help boost home construction and sales in coming months and help offset such problems as a shortage of building lots and a lack of skilled construction workers.
The latest National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo survey showed builder confidence dipped to a still solid reading of 64 in June, down from 66 in May. Sentiment levels have held in a range of the low- to mid-60s for the past five months.
"Despite lower mortgage rates, home prices remain somewhat high relative to incomes, which is particularly challenging for entry-level buyers," said Robert Dietz, chief economist for the home builders.
The May report on construction starts showed declines in every region of the country except the South where building starts rose by 11.2%. Construction took the sharpest fall in the Northeast, declining 45.5% while starts were down 8% in the Midwest and 2.4% in the West.
Residential construction has been a drag on the economy over the past year but economists are forecasting that it will turn around in the coming months with home construction boosting growth in the second half of this year and into next year, spurred by falling mortgage rates.