WASHINGTON - U.S. builders started fewer homes in December, but prior gains meant residential construction ended 2015 at its healthiest level in eight years.
Housing starts dipped 2.5 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.15 million homes, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. This marks some giveback after starts climbed 10.1 percent in November.
Last year marked the strongest performance for home construction since 2007, right when the housing bubble triggered the start of the Great Recession. But the construction figures show rapid changes in how Americans live as apartments have become more popular among builders.
Over the course of 2015, ground breakings climbed 10.8 percent to 1.1 million. But multifamily complexes accounted for 34.6 percent of all starts last year, compared to just 20.5 percent in 2007.
The change reflects a dwindling share of home ownership. That figure now rests at 63.7 percent, down from a high of 69.2 percent in 2000.
Future plans to build also slowed last month.
Building permits fell 2.9 percent in December to an annual rate of 1.23 million. Still, permits rose a robust 12 percent over the past 12 months.
Many construction firms continue to be optimistic, according to an industry report released Tuesday.
The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index stood at 60 in January, roughly its same level for the past several months. Readings above 50 indicate more builders view sales conditions as good, rather than poor.