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Economists see home prices stabilizing

Home prices should stabilize this year and rebound next year, with appreciation accelerating in 2014, according to a survey of 38 real estate economists and analysts by the Urban Land Institute.

The ULI Real Estate Consensus Forecast, conducted by the ULI Center for Capital Markets and Real Estate, suggests that the nation is primed for economic growth -- and inflation, which could push up mortgage rates. 

Economists polled by ULI in late February and early March expect a national home price index maintained by the Federal Housing Finance Agency will show no change this year, but gain 2 percent in 2013 and 3.5 percent in 2014.

They also expect single-family housing starts, which have been at or near record lows for three years, to rise from 428,600 in 2011 to 500,000 this year, 660,000 in 2013, and 800,000 in 2014.

Those projections are based on expectations that the economic recovery will remain on track, with unemployment falling to 8 percent by the end of 2012, 7.5 percent by the end of 2013, and 6.9 percent by the end of 2014. For that to happen, employment would have to increase by 2 million jobs in 2012, 2.5 million in 2013, and 2.75 million in 2014. Read more...

Builders ready for home construction rebound

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Home builders are getting ready for a stronger construction season, filing for the most building permits in more than three years, in another sign of recovery in the long-battered housing market.

The government reported builders filed for permits at an seasonally adjusted annual rate of 717,000 in February, the strongest reading since October 2008, which was the month after the meltdown in financial markets. It marked a 5.1% rise from January and a 34.3% increase from year-earlier levels.

Actual starts of new homes slipped slightly from a very strong start to the building season in January, down 1.1% to 698,000. Still, that was 35% ahead of starts in February 2011.

The starts are more affected by weather factors. But the permits are generally seen as an indication of builders' confidence in the market and the demand they are seeing. Mortgage rates near record lows and an improving jobs market both are feeding stronger demand.

The construction and permitting of apartments and condos continue to be particularly strong. Permits for buildings with more than one housing unit rose 61% from prior-year levels, and starts of buildings with five or more units jumped 29% from January and were more than double year-earlier levels. Read more…

NAR: 2012 home sales will be strongest in past 5 years

February pending sales up 9.2% from year ago.
The National Association of Realtors is predicting existing-home sales will jump 7 to 10 percent in 2012 to the highest level in five years, based on an "uneven but higher sales pattern" so far this year.

Pending home sales fell a seasonally adjusted 0.5 percent from January to February, which was up 9.2 percent from the same time a year ago, NAR said today in releasing its latest Pending Home Sales Index.

Last week, NAR reported a similar trend for existing-home sales, which were down 0.9 percent from January to February, but up 8.8 percent from a year ago.

The pending sales data released today provides a glimpse into more recent trends, because it tracks homes that were under contract in February -- deals that will in most cases be finalized within one or two months. Read more... 

Housing Crisis to End in 2012 as Banks Loosen Credit Standards

Capital Economics expects the housing crisis to end this year, according to a report released Tuesday. One of the reasons: loosening credit.

The analytics firm notes the average credit score required to attain a mortgage loan is 700. While this is higher than scores required prior to the crisis, it is constant with requirements one year ago. Additionally, a Fed Senior Loan Officer Survey found credit requirements in the fourth quarter were consistent with the past three quarters. However, other market indicators point not just to a stabilization of mortgage lending standards, but also a loosening of credit availability.

Banks are now lending amounts up to 3.5 times borrower earnings. This is up from a low during the crisis of 3.2 times borrower earnings. Read more...

The one number to watch for a housing recovery

If you're waiting for home prices to go up, then you're missing signs the troubled housing market has finally turned around.
FORTUNE – Over the past few months, many economists have concluded that that the U.S. housing market has reached a turning point and is healing. This may sound hard to believe, since home prices have continued their downward trend. In 2011, prices fell by 4% following nearly a 30% decline since the property bubble paeked in June 2006. They ended the year at a 10-year low.
Indeed, prices aren't likely going to rise for a while. But this might not necessarily mean the housing market isn't on the mend. Perhaps we're looking at the recovery all wrong, says Paul Dales at Capital Economics. In a report to clients recently, the economist said higher prices won't be the sign that tells us there's a real recovery under way. Rather, the recent pick-up in sales is what we should pay attention to.
After all, prices tend to be a lagging indicator. It could take six months for any improvements to show in the market, if not longer.
"Even if the asking price is at the right level when the home is first listed, it may still take a few months to find a buyer and another month or so before the contract is closed," Dales wrote to clients last week. "The selling price that is registered at the end of this process therefore relates to the market conditions somewhat earlier."
Sales have risen recently, reaching a few milestones.

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