Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies is out today with its 2016 State of the Nation’s Housing report. The wonky, data-rich paper isn't exactly beach-reading material, but if you want to know where the real estate market is headed, its analysis of construction statistics, demographic patterns, renting versus owning, and more is second to none. There's plenty to be optimistic about in the 2016 report, though myriad headwinds remain. Whether you're getting into the market for the first time or looking to leverage existing investments, the following facts and figures will help you make smart decisions.  

1.1 Million Homes

That’s how many new homes were built last year. It's encouraging to see activity up over the million mark again, after it plummeted to around 500,000 during the crash. But the industry would have to double its output to surpass the last housing boom high of roughly 2.2 million starts. Experts agree that's not going to happen anytime soon. But if builders can average 1.6 million units a year over the next decade, the supply of available inventory should stay healthy. In addition to filling the growing housing demand (the 1.3 million new households that were formed in 2015 was the largest single-year increase in 10 years) such level of activity would be a solid shot in the arm for the economy.

2 Million Fewer Construction Workers

The number of construction workers who have left the industry since 2007. This creates obvious challenges for an industry that's being asked to ramp up activity and production. A lot of workers who lost their construction jobs during the crash found work elsewhere and never returned. Others retired and their jobs haven't been replaced by younger workers. The industry will need to find ways to attract new and younger workers. For example, women currently make up less than 3 percent of trade workers, so they represent a large untapped resource.

The labor shortage is also an issue for homeowners looking to remodel. If that includes you, read "Home Renovation Without Aggravation" for tips on finding and hiring the best professionals in a tight labor market.

2,467-Square-Foot Median Size

The median size of the 715,000 single-family homes that were started last year. That was good enough for new record high—despite all the buzz around tiny homes and small-scale city living. Indeed, only about a fifth of completed homes were under 1,800 square feet and 58 percent of homes built between 2000 and 2014 were in low-density urban areas.

This stat underscores the extent to which the rebound in home building is concentrated on higher-end luxury homes. That will have to change to balance the supply of affordable single-family homes aimed at first-time home buyers, who accounted for 32 percent of the market last year—the lowest level since 1987.

$222,400 Median Price

The median price of existing homes sold in 2015—a 6.6 percent increase in real terms from 2014 and the highest level since 2007. The median price of new single-family homes was up 4.6 percent to $296,400. Home prices in all 20 metro areas tracked by the S&P/Case Shiller Home Price Index were up last year, led by Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle, which posted gains in the 10 percent range.

The rise in home prices has spurred discretionary spending by homeowners, including on big-ticket projects like kitchen and bath remodels. There’s also been a steady uptick in accessibility projects, such as the addition of a walk-in shower or ground floor master bedroom, by homeowners who want to grow old in their existing home, rather than move into assisted living.

63.7 Percent Homeownership

The current homeownership rate. Despite the overwhelming preference for owing a home (in a 2015 Demand Institute survey, 78 percent of household heads agreed with the statement, "I think homeownership is an excellent investment," while only 6 percent disagreed) the rate is at a near 50-year low. “Tight mortgage credit, the decade-long falloff in incomes that is only now ending, and a limited supply of homes for sale are all keeping households—especially first-time buyers—on the sidelines," said Chris Herbert, managing director of Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, in the news release.  

110 Million Renters

The number of Americans who rent. That's 36 percent of all U.S. households. Top-income renters have been the fastest growing segment over the last few years, though they still account for just 11 percent of all renters. But given their large disposable incomes, well-to-do renters are getting a lot of attention from developers and manufacturers—witness the rise of sleek compact appliances designed for urban kitchens.

In reality, however, many renters are struggling to make ends meet, let alone build wealth. At last measure in 2013, the typical renter had just $5,400 in net household wealth, compared with $195,000 for the typical homeowner. What's more, 12 percent of renter households had no savings in transaction or retirement savings and the other 88 percent had just $3,000. That's making it very difficult for many renters to save up for a downpayment. "The question is not so much whether families will want to buy homes in the future, but whether they will be able to do so," said Herbert.

75 Percent Minority Ownership

The projected minority share of household growth over the next 10 years. Asians are leading the current wave of immigration, outpacing Hispanics, in part because of a net population loss of Mexicans; the number of Mexican immigrants fell from 2.9 million in 1995-2000 to 870,000 in 2009-2014, according to the Pew Research Center. This demographic shift in immigration bodes well for homeownership rates, since Asians are more likely to own a home; their homeownership rate stood at 57 percent in 2014, compared with 42 percent for foreign-born Hispanics.