Improving Housing Markets Nearly Double, New Data Says

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housing marketData released today indicates that the number of improving housing markets nearly doubled in January, providing the latest evidence of a real estate turnaround.

Seventy-six markets are now on the upswing, according to the Improving Markets Index, a monthly release prepared by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the First American Financial Corporation. That represents an increase of 35 markets from the December release, which listed 41 markets as improving. The index classifies a market as improving if it posts an increase in jobs, home prices and single-family housing permits for at least six months.

"The substantial gain in the number of improving housing markets in January shows that more consumers are looking favorably at a home purchase in light of today's historically low interest rates and attractive prices," said Kurt Pfotenhauer, vice chairman of First American Title Insurance Company. The average rate of a 30-year-fixed mortgage dropped to match the lowest on record last week, with Freddie Mac putting the number at 3.91 percent.

Most of the cities that joined the list are relatively small metropolitan areas, NAHB chief economist David Crowe notes. But a few major cities, including Dallas, Denver and Philadelphia, also made the cut.

Beyond just the general increase in the number of improving markets, the data is also encouraging because of the wide geographical distribution of the recuperating cities, NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen said. The generous spread of improving cities suggests that a possible recovery is not concentrated only in certain pockets of the country.

The newly released data is the latest harbinger of good news for the housing market in 2012. Pending home sales hit a year and a half high in November, while total home sales rose 4.0 percent the same month, according to the National Association of Realtors. Residential construction ticked up 2 percent in November, The Commerce Department said earlier this month.

Despite the positive signs, the foreclosure crisis could continue to be a "lingering problem in 2012, NAHB senior economist Robert Denk told AOL Real Estate.

"Things are not great, but they are coming down," he said. "There's no imminent threat that things are going to get worse on that front."

While mortgage delinquencies have dropped 25 percent since January of 2010, 2 million Americans still face foreclosure, according to Lender Processing Services.

The National Association of Home Builders, which prepares the index with The First American Financial Corporation, is a trade group that represents more than 160,000 members involved in home building. The First American Financial Corporation provides title insurance and settlements services to the real estate and mortgage industries.

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Improving Housing Markets Nearly Double, New Data Says

After bidding farewell to 2011, Realtors, investors and regulators the world over are no doubt wondering: Will 2012 be the year the real estate market finally rides out the aftershocks of the housing bust and mounts a full-on recovery?

There are indications that it could be. Big-time investors say that they're bullish on real estate and recent figures showing that pending home sales are at an 18-month high lend credence that view.

But even if home prices don't trend up nationwide, certain markets seem almost guaranteed to do well. Looking at a variety of sources, AOL Real Estate brings you 10 of this year's most promising housing markets for 2012. 

Location: Pittsburgh
Price: $299,900
Beds/Baths: 3/2
Sq. Ft.: N/A

MSN Real Estate lists Pittsburgh as one of the best housing markets in the U.S., pointing out that the steel town suffered practically no price decline following the housing bust and that its prices are projected to begin gaining ground relatively soon. 

This brick colonial typifies the sort of deal that you can expect to find on the higher end of Pittsburgh's market.  

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Like many Northeastern homes, its interior has a bit of an Old World feel

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Location: Worcester, Mass. 
Price: $300,000
Beds/Baths: 4/3
Sq Ft: 2,730

Tech companies are driving job growth in Worcester, according to MSN Real Estate. That may help real estate prices, which slipped 3 percent this past year, but are expected to tick up 2 percent in 2013. 

Spanning a generous 2,730 square feet, this alternatively colored home was built in 1987 and is equipped with its very own "game room," according to the listing. 

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The home features hardwood floors and a well-equipped kitchen, with ample cabinetry. There's also a sliding glass door that leads to a porch overlooking the back yard.

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Location: Kansas City, Kan. 
Price: $199,000
Beds/Baths: 4/3
Sq. Ft.: 2,123

Realtor magazine ranks Kansas City, Kan., as the most promising housing market of 2012. HousingPredictor, which the magazine used for its rankings, estimates that the Midwestern city will see its real estate prices appreciate by 5.8 percent in 2012. 

Priced at $94 a square foot, this four-bedroom delivers everything you need.

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Pictured here is the home's generously sized kitchen. 

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Location: Topeka, Kan. 
Price: $429,000
Beds/Baths: 5/5
Sq. Ft.: 4,782

Kansas seems to have fared better than most through the real estate storm. Another one of the state's major cities, Topeka is predicted to post the second-highest increase in real estate prices, according to Realtor magazine.

Here is a sprawling home in Topeka, one of the ritzier houses in town. The $429,000 home offers five bedrooms and 4,782 total square feet. 

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The home comes with a large living space bathed in sunlight through its giant windows. 

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Location: El Paso, Texas
Price: $525,000
Beds/Baths: 5/4
Sq. Ft.: 3,767

El Paso is one of a host of Texas real estate markets that have fared well during the housing crisis. HousingPredictor projects a 3.2 percent increase in home prices this year. 

This groovy, fortress-like new traditional is priced at $525,000.

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The interior has a slick modern feel. Texas chic, if you will. 

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Location: Huntington, W.Va.
Price: $175,000
Beds/Baths: 4/3
Sq. Ft.: 1,804

On the hunt for new digs in a market that's turned the corner of the housing slump? Look no further than Huntington, W.Va. HousingPredictor expects the town's real estate prices to climb by 4 percent this year. 

Throw down $175,000 for this handsome 1/3-acre property, and enjoy a thoughtful interior as well as verdant surroundings. 

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Sink your teeth into this kitchen.

Want tips on how to master real estate photography? Read some tips from a pro

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Location: Charleston, W.Va. 
Price: $349,000
Beds/Baths: 4/3
Sq. Ft.: 3,716

Charleston clocks in at third on Realtor magazine's rankings of this year's most promising real estate markets. HousingPredictor expects a 4.5 percent increase. 

Search this town and you may find yourself mulling a neat property like this 3,716-square-foot four-bedroom. 

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The home offers elegant decor with dark hardwood floors and arched doorways. 

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Location: Bismarck, N.D. 
Price: $493,500
Beds/Baths: 3/6
Sq. Ft.: 3,089

Bismarck, N.D., is also expected to perform well in the real estate market this year. HousingPredictor estimates a 3.6 percent increase in home prices there.

This home's exterior reminds us that along with some serious deals there's a tradeoff: You're going to have to cope with some very harsh winters. 

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Don't expect to have to walk very far for a restroom in this home: Its bathroom-to-bedroom ratio is 2 to 1. 

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Location: University Place, Wash. 
Price: $439,090
Beds/Baths: 3/2
Sq. Ft.: 2,058

A tip of the hat to DailyFinance for directing us to Tacoma, Wash., a city whose real estate prices are set to skyrocket, according to a Fiserv prediction. The financial services information provider projects that prices in Tacoma will jump a staggering 24.9 percent. 

Located in University Place, a suburb just outside of Tacoma, this listing offers a taste of the sort of homes that may benefit from the price boom. 

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Constructed just a year ago, the home is practically brand new. Pictured here is the house's chicly lit kitchen. 

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Location: Memphis, Tenn. 
Price: $635,000
Beds/Baths: 5/6
Sq. Ft.: N/A

Fistserv also ranks Memphis, Tenn., as one of the most promising real estate markets of the year, predicting that the city's real estate prices will appreciate by 10 percent. 

This pricey home will bring you an acre of lush land, plus a down country five-bedroom that dates back to the 1950s. 

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The contemporary delivers a pool, some woodland and a colorful interior. 

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