New home construction is looking up this year.

During an economic update Wednesday at the International Builders' Show in Orlando David Crowe, chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders, projected single-family housing starts to rise by 21 percent in 2011, reaching 575,000 units.

The estimate is slightly more conservative than the Dec. 30 projection of 716,000 housing starts this year by Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of REALTORS®. Both estimates assume sustained job growth, increasing U.S. population, as well as continued low interest rates driving construction.

Yun expects about 2 million jobs to be added in 2011. However, as NAHB presenter Frank Nothaft, chief economist for Freddie Mac, pointed out, 2011 got off to a slow start with nonfarm payrolls rising only by 103,000 in December. He called the figure weaker than expected.

Credit is another factor. Lending remains tight, but if it opens up with safe underwriting standards for creditworthy buyers, Yun says there would be a bigger boost to the housing market with spillover benefits for the broader economy. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is forecast to rise gradually to 5.3 percent around the end of 2011; at the same time, unemployment should drop to 9.2 percent, according to NAR.

In addition, over the past 10 years the U.S. has added 27 million people. Continued population growth will also spur home construction and sales. All the indicator trends are pointing to a gradual housing recovery, Yun says.

An even more conservative projection of 492,000 housing starts in 2011 was released by the Portland Cement Association during the International Builders Show Wednesday. Edward Sullivan, PCA chief economist, does not expect significant increases until 2012 due to tight lending standards, a high home inventory count, and unstable housing prices. He also says that new home construction will vary considerably by region.

-- Erica Christoffer, REALTOR® Magazine