A pair of housing experts both forecast Sept 26 a slow, steady revival of home building through 2015, but they also warned attendees at a Hanley Wood conference to pay attention to shifts in buyer demographics if they hope to profit from the market’s revival.

Unlike the false dawn of 2010, this time housing’s recovery from the worst construction crash since the Depression is real, Tom Lawler, founder of Lawler Housing and Economic Consulting, told attendees at the Foundations Conference in Chicago, sponsored by ProSales’ corporate parent. However, it will still be several years before the market returns to normal, Lawler added. He defines normal as when housing starts grow at about the same pace as the rate at which households are created.

Lawler expects the number of single- and multi-family starts to grow from 608,800 last year to 745,000 this year. After that, he’s looking for 900,000 starts in 2013, 1.01 million in 2014 and 1.26 million in 2015. That 1.2 million also is slightly above what many economists now expect will be the amount of growth needed to match the annual increase in household formations. It was higher than that in the decades before the housing boom but then shrank to roughly 500,000 per year from about 2005 as the recession took hold.

"I think it’ll be 2015 and beyond where you’ll see household production back to [what] demographics [would suggest],” Lawler said.

James Chung, president of Reach advisors, didn’t question Lawler’s forecast but did stress that the factors driving growth will change. For instance, he noted than in 2000 there were roughly twice as many Americans in the biggest age group for trade-up housing (people aged 40 to 44) than there were people in the biggest age group (60 to 64 years old) for leaving trade-up homes. That 2:1 ratio helped encourage sales and construction of move-up rather than starter or custom homes, he said. But by 2010, that ratio of trade-ups to trade-outs shrank to about 5:4, and in 2020 it will be at parity.

"There’s a big change in the works here that will affect what the demand is for and what gets built," he said. Chung took comfort in America’s continued population growth—an increase that’s not seen in other developed countries—but noted that there will be changes in the people who are entering their peak earning years (ages 25 to 54). Between 2010 and 2020, the number of non-Hispanic whites in this group will shrink by 7% while the Hispanic cohort will rise 26%, the number of Asians will rise 24%, and the black population will grow by 10%. That converts to a decline of $257.5 billion in whites’ aggregate earning power, an amount more than offset by the roughly $345 billion increase in other groups’ earnings.

"That’s why we say it’s going to be lumpy," Chung said. "Growth is going to look different than it did before." Asked to pick a worthy growth market in coming years, Chung picked multifamily—but with caution. "Multifamily is a fantastic place to be, in some circumstances,” he said. “I’m also worried that the next bubble is in multifamily."