WASHINGTON -- Homebuilders' feelings about the current housing market haven't changed from February. But many are growing more optimistic that sales could pick up in the coming months.
The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo said Monday that its builder sentiment index stayed at 28, the highest level since June 2007. The flat reading followed five straight increases.
Builders expressed more confidence in sales over the next six months. A separate gauge measuring that outlook rose in March for the sixth straight month, from 34 to 36.
Even with the brighter outlook, the industry has a long way to go. Any reading below 50 indicates negative sentiment about the housing market. The index hasn't reached 50 since April 2006, the peak of the housing boom.
A key reason that homebuilders are more optimistic is that they have seen more people express interest in buying a home. And growing interest has occurred alongside other improvements that suggest the troubled housing market could pick up after four weak years.
Sales of previously occupied homes rose in January to its highest level since May 2010. Mortgage rates have never been lower. And home construction has picked up.
Still, home prices continue to fall. Builders keep slashing their prices to stay competitive. Last year was the worst for new-home sales on records dating back to 1963.
Builders are struggling to compete with foreclosures, which have forced down prices of previously occupied homes. And many people are finding it hard to qualify for loans or meet higher required down payments.
Low appraisals are scuttling some deals after contracts have been signed. As a result, some people who want to buy a new house are holding off because they can't sell their home.
Those in a position to buy are benefiting from lower prices and mortgage rates. The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage is hovering near record lows below 4 percent.
Builders have pointed to some regional pockets of strength. New Orleans, Pittsburgh and other smaller areas of Texas, in particular, have reported increased buying.
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Taking Inventory: Foreclosure Finds Across the U.S.
Homebuilders Survey: More Confidence About Housing Sales
Location: Trenton, N.J.
Average Foreclosure Discount: 67.8 percent
Sq. Ft.: N/A
Trenton ranks No. 1 on RealtyTrac's list of cities with the steepest foreclosure discounts. This single-family, whose price was slashed recently, represents one of the killer deals you can find in the city.
Dating back to the 1960s, this Cape Cod-style home offers three bedrooms and two baths. Judging by the average foreclosure discount of New Jersey, the home could be running as much as $150,000 below market value.
Average Foreclosure Discount: 49.67 percent
Price: $3.75 million
Sq. Ft.: 22,000
Foreclosed homes in Atlanta are selling for a staggering 50 percent off, according to data from RealtyTrac. This vacant Mediterranean mansion offers a rather excessive four kitchens along with amenities that include a home theater, pool, spa, steam room and elevator.
Average Foreclosure Discount: 48.14 percent
Price: $4.29 million
Sq. Ft.: 12,129
It may be hard to believe that $4.29 million is a below-market price, but given that this stucco Mediterranean is bank-owned and Houston's foreclosure discount approaches 50 percent, odds are that the home could be quite a deal for a well-heeled buyer.
Location: St. Louis
Average Foreclosure Discount: 54.61 percent
Sq. Ft.: 1,342
This brick-built home, which dates back to 1930, probably hit the market at a reduced price to begin with, but now is running even lower, having just undergone a price cut. The home offers stained-glass windows and wood flooring along with a spruced-up kitchen.
Pictured here is the home's updated kitchen. The residence is even more of a deal if you factor in its purported HomePath Mortgage status. That means if you've got the right credit, you could snatch it for as little as 3 percent down.
Location: Lansing, Mich.
Average Foreclosure Discount: 44.31 percent
Sq. Ft.: 2,228
Squeezed into a condo community, this historic home stands out in the neighborhood because of its stately portico. The home has a long residential tradition, but could go commercial if the buyer so chooses: The house can serve as an office, according to the listing.
Location: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Average Foreclosure Discount: 43.45 percent
Sq. Ft.: 4,339
You get a lot of bang for your buck if you buy this four-bedroom contemporary. Located on a cul-de-sac, the home spans a generous 4,339 feet and offers a three-car garage. At under $300,000, that makes it an affordable luxury residence.
Location: Flint, Mich.
Average Foreclosure Discount: 21.55 percent
Sq. Ft.: N/A
Purchase a foreclosed home in Flint and you're likely to enjoy the benefit of more than 20 percent off. While the city's foreclosure inventory doesn't offer deals quite as striking as those found in some other cities wracked by the housing crisis, the town's average foreclosed-home price still falls far, far below the national median (which hovers above $200,000). Flint's average foreclosed-home price is just $60,578. This well-landscaped home demonstrates how far just $110,000 gets you.
Location: Easton, Pa.
Average Foreclosure Discount: 41.17 percent
Sq. Ft.: 1,556
Alright! A listing description that levels with you. "This is a property that needs some work," it states. The home is not without its virtues, however: It offers ample space, three bedrooms and an attic. Furthermore, buyers can acquire 3 percent buyer's assistance if they make an offer by the 31st of this month.
One thing buyers should watch out for if they think about shelling out for these digs is that, as with many other foreclosures, there is no seller disclosure for buyers interested in this home. That means, unless you pay for a thorough inspection, you could discover hidden flaws after purchasing the place.
Pictured here is the home's open dining-kitchen area. The place seems to be in pretty good shape for a foreclosed home. Many fall into poor condition, succumbing to insect infestations or other symptoms of neglect.