Utah ranks No. 3 in housing growth nationwide
Utah achieved the nation's third-fastest growth last year in housing units, including homes, apartments and condominiums.
But area homebuilders and economists say growth remained slow Â it was just better than other states where lingering effects of the recession are even worse.
"In 2011, we had slight growth Â and it was welcomed by many," said Robert Nelson, president of the Home Builders Association of Utah.
He said that homes priced between $170,000 and $230,000 "seem to be doing pretty well, but other markets seem to be slow."
"I'm surprised that we ranked third. We are at very low levels" of new construction, said James Wood, director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah.
The U.S. Census Bureau released estimates Thursday showing the number of housing units in Utah were up from 979,709 in 2010 to 993,060 in 2011Â an uptick of 13,351, or 1.36 percent.
That was almost triple the average national growth of 0.5 percent.
The only states that fared better than Utah were Wyoming, with 1.4 percent growth, and Alaska, with 1.38 percent.
Nelson said reports from other homebuilders nationally indicated to him that Utah "had a lot of homes that were foreclosed on, but maybe not as many as the other states" helping to create a bit higher demand for new housing here.
Wood said Utah in recent years has ranked in the middle of the pack among states for foreclosures, but such homes tend to resell relatively quickly.
He said about 90 percent of foreclosed homes have been resold with only the most dilapidated ones tending to remain on the market. Wood said the quick absorption of foreclosed homes may create a higher demand for new housing here than elsewhere.
"The presence of distressed properties depresses prices, and builders can't compete with that," Wood said. "I think we'll be in pretty good shape by the end of this year on the foreclosure side."
Nelson agreed. "The market is slowly returning, but not as quickly as we had hoped. And we have had a slow spell for the last few months," after a quick start in 2012 building because of mild winter weather.
Wood said another contributing factor for higher growth in Utah is that some easier financing provided incentives to build more apartments.
Four counties in Utah finished among the top 100 counties nationally for the fastest housing growth by percentage, for counties with populations of at least 5,000.
Summit was No. 27 nationally at 3.25 percent growth (or 6.5 times faster than the national average); Kane was No. 38 at 2.8 percent; Duchesne was No. 43 at 2.65 percent; and Sanpete was No. 55 at 2.49 percent.
The growth rates for counties along the Wasatch Front included: Utah County, 1.61 percent; Salt Lake and Davis, 1.3 percent each; and Weber, 0.99 percent.
The Census Bureau estimated that one county in the state (Rich)Â had no growth. It also estimated that only one county in the state (San Juan)Â had more housing demolished than was built, with minus 0.21 percent net growth.
Housing unit growth
National average in 2011: 0.5 percent.
Utah in 2011: 1.36 percent (No. 3 in nation).
Highest growth in Utah: Summit County, 3.25 percent (No. 27 in nation).
Lowest growth in Utah: San Juan County, minus 0.21 percent (meaning more housing was demolished than was built).
Source: U.S. Census Bureau