The number of building consents in December remained weak, after failing to recover the previous month's decline.
Statistics New Zealand says dwelling consents rose 2% compared with November, which fell more than 6% on the previous month.
Consents rose 13% compared with the same month in 2010, which was the weakest December on record.
ASB economist Jane Turner says it is too early to see earthquake rebuilding activity, but construction is expected to pick up.
Most new housing consents were in Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury, while many other regions showed small falls.
When apartment consents are taken out, the number of new housing approvals fell slightly in December compared with the previous month.
The figures also show that office building consents rose, while retail outlets and restaurants declined.