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Newsmakers

New Home Sales Down in August, Higher Year-Over-Year

Sept. 26, 2016

New single-family home sales were down in August, but the total beat analysts’ expectations as year-over-year sales shot up, according the Commerce Department.
August sales of new single-family houses reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 609,000, which is 7.6% down from July, but 20.6% higher than August 2015’s numbers, Commerce said. The median sales price of new houses sold in August was $284,000, while the average price was $353,600.


The Northeast saw the largest month-to-month drop in sales—34.3% to 25,000 houses, while sales in the West grew by 8% to 162,000, making the region the only in the country to see sales growth in August.


- Nicholas Stern, editorial associate

As New PA Lien Law Effective Date Approaches, Suppliers Need to Prep for Changes

Sept. 22, 2016

Forthcoming changes to Pennsylvania’s mechanic’s lien laws should make life easier for suppliers and subcontractors working in the state, though exactly when the changes will be implemented has yet to be established.

That’s because before it can take effect, portions of the new mechanic’s lien code, passed in 2014, require the Pennsylvania’s Department of General Services to set up and operate a State Construction Notices Directory website by the end of the year, said attorney Justin Bayer, with Kane, Pugh, Knoell, Troy & Kramer of Philadelphia, PA. Currently, no such website is available. Inquiries to the Department of General Services’ spokesman by NACM staff remained unreturned as of press time. The law also leaves room for the department to delay setting up the website beyond the Dec. 31 deadline, as long as it provides sufficient reasons for the delay, Bayer said.

Regardless, when the website does become operational, suppliers and subcontractors will have a more transparent system in which project owners (for projects more than $1.5 million) will file Notices of Commencement, he said. These notices will provide suppliers and others access to the projects’ exact location and legal description, among other facets, including whether or not a project has a payment bond. “That makes our lives in theory much easier,” Bayer said. Currently, suppliers and subcontractors often don’t know if there is a payment bond on a job as they don’t have access to this information. “It’s going to be a different ballgame with filing mechanic’s liens in Pennsylvania when the website goes live,” he said.

Other major changes to the code
Pennsylvania will become a “Notice to Owner” state, and the State Construction Notices Directory will include Notices of Commencement, Notices of Furnishing, Notices of Completion and Notices of Nonpayment, according to an analysis by attorney Jim Fullerton, with Fullerton & Knowles, P.C., of Clifton, Va. Lien claimants will have access to at least another administrative procedure and cost to preserve their lien rights, he said. Subcontractors and suppliers have to interact with the new system to ensure payment. Also, it appears claimants that post a Notice of Furnishing on the directory would be more likely to see payment.

Also, if the project owner files a Notice of Commencement, suppliers and others have to file a Notice of Furnishing on the directory within 45 days of providing materials or work at the site in question or forfeit potential lien rights, Fullerton said. But remember, simply filing a Notice of Furnishing doesn’t relieve the claimant of need to file a lien claim or comply with other code requirements to preserving lien rights. (See STS’s Newsmakers for more on the new PA law.)


- Nicholas Stern, editorial associate

Housing Starts Stall, Contractor Backlog Drops Off in Northeast

Sept. 20, 2016

Housing starts fell in August by 5.8% following June and July’s 1.2 million-unit average pace, with multi-unit starts dropping the fastest at 6.9%.
Single-family construction continued to grow in August, with permits rising 3.7%, though single-family starts fell 6% in August from July’s figure of 768,000 and dropped  1.2%, year-over-year, the Department of Commerce said today. Apartment construction appears to be cooling off as year-to-day starts of buildings with five or more units increased 0.3% from last year as permits are down 15.3%.

Meanwhile, construction backlog for large contractors—with annual revenue above $100 million—grew to new heights at 14.06 months in the second quarter, according to the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Construction Backlog Indicator (CBI). Nationwide, the average backlog for contractors dropped 1.6% to 8.5 months during the second quarter from the first quarter and remained the same year-over-year, “signaling that growth in the nation’s nonresidential construction industry is slowing,” ABC said.

“While backlog is hardly collapsing, the period of growing in nonresidential construction spending appears to be ending,” said ABC chief economist Anirban Basu. “In fact, nonresidential construction spending data indicate that growth has been slowing for a number of months, something that prior weak CBI readings suggested would occur.”
Such downward movement suggests a slow-burning economy has had some part to play in the backlog lag for smaller contractors, Basu said. “Financial regulators have begun to express growing concern regarding possible bubbles forming in certain real estate segments in certain cities, which may have rendered the developer financing environment somewhat more challenging,” he said. “A slowdown in business investment, including in energy-related sectors, has undoubtedly also played a role.”

By region, the Northeast is the only one that has reported a decline in backlog to 7.1 months—a level not seen since 2011 and 2012, ABC said. In the South, backlog reached new heights at more than 10 months for four consecutive quarters. In the West, contractors are seeing more private and public contracting to accommodate rising populations, while the Middle states are seeing the highest ever backlog at eight months, in large part due to the expansion of the U.S. auto sector, Basu said.

- Nicholas Stern, editorial associate

View more Newsmakers here.

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