Home Buyers Spring Into Action, With Cash and Caution

spring home buying seasonSpring home buying season has officially sprung, as buyers reenter the market after a long winter. In the absence of another homebuyer tax credit, however, sales are not as robust as they were a year ago.

Existing home sales, which includes single-family houses, condos, townhouses and co-ops, rose to 5.10 million in March, up from 4.92 million in February, according to the National Association of Realtors. That's a gain of 3.7 percent. Compared with last year, though, when the $8,000 home buyer tax credit was still in effect, sales are 6.3 percent below the 5.44 million units sold in March 2010.

"Although home sales are coming back without a federal stimulus, sales would be notably stronger if mortgage lending would return to the normal, safe standards that were in place a decade ago, before the loose lending practices that created the unprecedented boom-and-bust cycle," said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, in a press release.

Still, buyer tendencies have already begun to change dramatically since the 2008 housing bubble burst. The national median existing-home price was $159,600 in March, down 5.9 percent from the year-ago period, according to the NAR. Additionally, all-cash sales were at a record market share of 35 percent in March, up 2 percent from February and a considerable 8 percent more than March 2010.

The shift towards less expensive properties with more money down is indicative of both the tightening credit market and more conservative buying habits.

It also means more competition for first-time buyers, as investment buyers with cash on hand take advantage of low prices. First-time buyers made up 33 percent of purchases in March, down from 44 percent in March 2010, according to an NAR Realtors Confidence Index scheduled to be published April 29.

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