apartments declined in August for the second month in a row, the Commerce Department said Monday.

Housing completions in August fell 1.7%, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.581 million, after declining 3.9% in July, to a 1.608 million pace. The government previously reported that completions had declined 4.1% in July, to a 1.599 million pace.

Builders finished 0.4% more single-family homes during August, while completions of apartments and other multifamily structures fell 9.2%.

In the months ahead, demand for new homes could go though "a leveling-out process," reflecting higher borrowing costs and home prices, William Sullivan, an economist at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in New York, before the report for August was released. "But we're not looking for a major retrenchment," he said.

Completions declined 15% in the West, to 334,000; dropped 6.2% in the Northeast, to 152,000; rose 2.3% in the Midwest, to 316,000; and increased 4.7% in the South, to 779,000.

Housing completion figures tend to lag reports of construction starts by about six months. Government figures from September show that in August, starts of housing construction unexpectedly rose 0.4%, to an annual rate of 1.676 million units -- the highest level in five months -- as builders started work on more multi-family buildings.

Starts of single-family homes were lower, though, as builders were slowed by shortages of materials and skilled workers. Even so, the level of single-family housing starts is up 7% through August. -- Bloomberg News

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