New-home sales slowing, but prices still up

Carpenters frame a home at a residential construction site in the west side of the Las Vegas Valley in Las Vegas, April 5, 2013.

Las Vegas’ home construction market is softening, but that doesn’t mean buyers are scoring big, widespread discounts yet.

Local builders sold 433 new homes last month, down 15 percent from a year earlier, according to a new report from Las Vegas-based Home Builders Research.

They also pulled 386 permits in February, down 22 percent from a year ago.

In January, local builders sold 401 new homes, down 22 percent from January 2013, and pulled 450 construction permits, down 26 percent.

The slowdown comes amid rising borrowing costs for would-be buyers. Interest rates for a 30-year mortgage averaged 4.32 percent this past week, up from 3.54 percent a year earlier, according to mortgage-finance company Freddie Mac.

In 2013, new-home sales rose almost every month through August but tapered off the rest of the year. Southern Nevada builders have been offering more incentives in recent months to lure buyers, but consumers still are paying more than they were last year for newly built homes.

The median price of last month’s closings was about $296,000, down 1 percent from January but up 26 percent from February 2013, Home Builders Research reported.

Overall, the local housing market has bounced back from the depths of the recession — thanks in no small part to investors buying cheap homes in bulk to turn into rentals — but remains wracked with problems.

Las Vegas has the highest rate of underwater borrowers in the country, and Nevada’s foreclosure rate is one of the highest.

Moreover, the valley’s unemployment rate is stuck at almost 9 percent, Home Builders Research President Dennis Smith noted in this week’s report.

“Once again, our response is, ‘at least it’s going in the right direction — and not up,’” he wrote.