Housing will lead the economic recovery. Due to low mortgage interest rates, a renewed focus on the importance of home, and a lack of for-sale inventory, housing data has been a relative bright spot as the overall economy struggles to establish a rebound.

Due to this broader weakness (GDP declined at a -32.9% rate for the second quarter) and gains for residential-related economic activity, housing’s share of GDP reached its highest mark since the third quarter of 2007, increasing to 16.2% during the second quarter of 2020. The home building and remodeling component – residential fixed investment – held at 3.3% of GDP.

Housing gains will continue as the consequences of the virus crisis are likely to lead to a reversal for declining home size trends and a greater need for additional home office space. For these and other reasons, home building and remodeling have demand-side potential that can help fuel a recovery in the labor market, given the widespread impact that construction has on the economy in terms of jobs and state/local tax revenue.

Housing-related activities contribute to GDP in two basic ways.

The first is through residential fixed investment (RFI). RFI is effectively the measure of the home building, multifamily development, and remodeling contributions to GDP. It includes construction of new single-family and multifamily structures, residential remodeling, production of manufactured homes and brokers’ fees.

For the second quarter, RFI was 3.3% of the economy, recording a $564 billion seasonally adjusted annual pace (measured in inflation adjusted 2012 dollars). This did represent a decline from the first quarter, which recorded a post-Great Recession high pace of $638 billion.

The second impact of housing on GDP is the measure of housing services, which includes gross rents (including utilities) paid by renters, and owners’ imputed rent (an estimate of how much it would cost to rent owner-occupied units) and utility payments. The inclusion of owners’ imputed rent is necessary from a national income accounting approach, because without this measure, increases in homeownership would result in declines for GDP.

For the second quarter, housing services represented 12.9% of the economy or $2.2 trillion on seasonally adjusted annual basis.

Taken together, housing’s share of GDP was 16.2% for the quarter.

Historically, RFI has averaged roughly 5% of GDP while housing services have averaged between 12% and 13%, for a combined 17% to 18% of GDP. These shares tend to vary over the business cycle. However, the housing share of GDP lagged during the post-Great Recession period due to underbuilding, particularly for the single-family sector.—Robert Dietz, Chief Economist, NAHB