So the Census Bureau and HUD have released their monthly housing report that includes building permits, housing starts, and housing completions.

Beware what you read in other news outlets about them. In almost every case, reports ignore the rather large caveat that comes with some of the numbers — the “plus/minus” factor.

First, the clear good news — building permits were up between 23.5% and 26.5% in May over last year. So the increase in homebuilder confidence that’s been reported seems to have a good reason. Of course, those houses could remain vacant, but let’s assume the best. They wouldn’t build if they didn’t expect buyers.

Then we come to housing starts. They were up in May — between 17.8% and 39.2% over 2011 (there’s that ‘plus/minus’ thing rearing its ugly head).

Finally, housing completions were either down 4.1% from last year or up 24.1% — or somewhere in between. (Translation: Wait for HUD to release real numbers, not estimates.)

Speaking of estimates, both the March and April HUD estimates of housing starts were revised upward — meaning there were actually more starts in those months than HUD initially figured. So that’s more good news even if it’s from the past.

Click here to read the HUD release yourself.

And click here for a great graph from Calculated Risk.