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Housing is back! Best moves for homebuyers

By Bill Cullin | May 17, 2013
Photo by: CNN Money
NEW YORK (Money Magazine) By Beth Braverman

Six years after prices collapsed, housing has begun to climb out of its hole. So what are the best moves to make now? In a three-part series, we offer smart strategies for buyers, sellers, and owners in today's market.

Real estate has finally started to bounce back across the country -- even roar back in some places.

Low mortgage rates and pent-up demand have coaxed buyers back into the market, and homeowners who list their houses are seeing more traffic. That quaint relic of the bubble, the bidding war, has even started to reemerge in some cities.

Consider the mounting evidence that the long national real estate nightmare is over: During the past year, home prices increased in 92 of the country's 100 largest metropolitan areas, according to data provider CoreLogic, with prices rising as high as 23% in Phoenix and 17% in San Francisco. Sales volume rose in 69 of the top 100 markets, and 35 of those showed double-digit gains.

Yet while most economists agree that the bottom is behind us and the five-year outlook for housing is on solid footing, the shorter term is shakier. "Two thousand thirteen and 2014 are going to be transition years," says Mark Fleming, CoreLogic's chief economist. "The market's improving, but it's not totally healed."

BUYERS

Thinking about buying a home? For the first time in more than half a decade, the economics of the market are working against you in most places.

Inventory is tight, and bidding wars are back in some parts of the country. To snag your dream home, you'll have to pay up and contend with continuing strict loan requirements. The bright side: Despite rising prices and mortgage rates that are edging upward, buying a home is still cheaper than renting in the majority of the top 100 markets.

Don't waste time with a low-ball offer.

Yes, home prices are still way down from their highs, but the days when you could scoop up a house for 20% less than the list price are long gone. The typical home sells for pretty close to what the owners asked for, and even in shaky markets, sellers have gotten more realistic about pricing.

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Bill Cullin

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