Home Value Survey Sees Sharp Rise in Realtor Optimism

With signs that a real estate recovery may be kicking into gear, a new survey shows a sharp increase in optimism among real estate professionals about the direction of home values.

A survey conducted by home valuation website HomeGain found that the number of real estate professionals who expect home values to increase has more than doubled over just one quarter. Thirty-seven percent of respondents surveyed so far in 2012 said they anticipate that home values will rise in the next six months, up from 15 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.

"The trend has been stay the same or decrease. And here it flipped for the first time," HomeGain General Manager Louis Cammarosano told AOL Real Estate. He added that since HomeGain began administering the survey in the second quarter of 2009, the percentage of respondents who have expressed a bullish outlook on the market has never risen above 25 percent, and for much of the time, has sputtered around 15 percent.

The spike in optimism about home values follows recent reports that corroborate the view that the housing market is stabilizing. Home sales are trending upward and homebuilders are reportedly more optimistic than they've been in many years. Home prices continue to fall, but a number of industry observers say that price direction isn't necessarily the most important bellwether of a recovery.

Budge Huskey, president and chief operating officer of Coldwell Banker Real Estate, says he sees confidence among real estate agents that he hasn't observed since the housing meltdown. "What is consistently being represented out there today is that there is a sense of optimism in the real estate business that has not been seen in the last five to six years," he told AOL Real Estate.

While cautioning that real estate agents "tend to always be optimists," Huskey stressed that "this time it's based on what we believe to be some clear trends."

Prominent among the hopeful signs, Huskey says, is the state of the housing inventory, which had fallen to 2.3 million homes, or approximately a six-month supply of for-sale homes, as of January. That's the lowest level of inventory since March 2005, according to the National Association of Realtors, which released the statistic.

Meanwhile, total home sales have risen by 13 percent in the last six months, Capital Economics says. And while construction of new homes, dropped marginally in February, they still were at the second-highest level since October 2008, the National Association of Homebuilders says.

A last sign, much ballyhooed by industry optimists, is the state of homebuilders' confidence: The National Association of Home Builders sentiment index reached 28 in February and remained at that level in March. Not since 2007 have homebuilders expressed such confidence in the housing industry.

Despite sprouting green shoots in the market, home prices continue to slide, and even when they do eventually trend upward, many economists say, the increase will be gradual. That fact has led some industry observers to call for a rethinking of what actually constitutes a housing recovery, and to avoid treating price movement as the all-important indicator of a recovery.

Capital Economics, for instance, recently stated that even though prices declined last year (around 4 percent according to various estimates) and mortgage rates are finally ticking up, the economic analysis firm still believes that the real estate market is making inroads.

But CoreLogic senior economist Sam Khater advises against buying too much into the hype. "I would be cautious about folks getting too optimistic," he says.

The 1.6 million homes that are in a state of foreclosure are about to hit the market at a faster pace in the wake of an agreement reached between the government and major mortgage servicers over acceptable foreclosure practices, Khater says. That'll drive down prices, he says, as banks begin to push through foreclosures that they previously halted during negotiations of the $25 billion settlement reached last month.

"There's going to be a really long tail to this," he cautions. Still, Khater says that rising sales and the fact that fewer homes are flowing into the "shadow inventory" -- homes in a state of foreclosure -- are positive signs for the real estate market.

Huskey says the next healthy housing era will be a more "traditional market" that will stand in stark contrast to what he calls the "steroid years," when prices rose at an unsustainable pace.

As CNNMoney recently put it, "If you're waiting for home prices to go up, then you're missing signs the troubled housing market has finally turned around."

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Home Value Survey Sees Sharp Rise in Realtor Optimism

Recent reports on the housing market suggest that real estate prices may finally be close to hitting bottom, with at least one expert predicting that national median prices will tick up this year for the first time since the housing bust. 

For some towns, price recoveries have been in the works for some time. Florida, in particular, lays claim to quite a few markets that appear to be firing on all cylinders, and posting the price gains to show for it.

With the help of our friends at Realtor.com, AOL Real Estate brings you homes from the metro areas that posted the greatest year-over-year median price increases in February, as measured by Realtor.com listings. If a national price recovery is happening, these are some of the towns leading the charge. 

Location: Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.
Median Price Increase: 14.47 percent

Home Price: $5.479 million
Beds/Baths: 5/7
Sq. Ft.: 5,286

This home, apparently recognized as a local architectural achievement, uses the material terrazzo, a combination of granite or marble and concrete, for its indoor and outdoor flooring. 

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Highlights of the home include its gourmet kitchen, master bedroom, master bath, entertainment areas, office and exercise space. Need we mention the views? 

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Location: Daytona Beach, Fla. 
Median Price Increase: 15.56 percent

Home Price: $7.7 million
Beds/Baths: 4/10
Sq. Ft.: 13,654

Commanding a long, lavishly-landscaped driveway, this "new traditional" epitomizes the "good life" in Daytona Beach. 

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The gated home has its own dock and and a generous stretch of waterfront.

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Location: Fort Myers-Cape Coral, Fla. 
Median Price Increase: 15.59 percent

Home Price: $8.7 million
Beds/Baths: 6/13
Sq. Ft.: 13,723

This home is a behemoth. But while it may stretch 13,723 square feet, you're never far from a bathroom. There are 13. 

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The home is steeped in luxury inside and out. Exhibit A: a nine-car garage. 

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Location: Naples, Fla. 
Median Price Increase: 15.67 percent

Home Price: $11.95 million
Beds/Baths: 5/8
Sq. Ft.: 7,890

She's not hard to look at, is she? One of the many things this mouth-watering residence has going for it is its gigantic, resort-style pool. The home also has 127 feet of waterfront, and its many columns, inside and out, give the place regal flair. 

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As far as amenities, we say the theater room and library top the list. 

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Location: Boise City, Idaho
Median Price Increase: 16.28 percent

Home Price: $1.25 million
Beds/Baths: 4/6
Sq. Ft.: 6,984

Sitting on a hilltop perch, this sprawling log-built home commands five acres of woodsy Boise real estate. 

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The place is brimming with interior detail, including cherry floors, built-in cabinets and sound system, "forged-nickel hardware" and crystal chandeliers. 

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Location: Washington, D.C.
Median Price Increase: 18.45 percent 

Home Price: $7.495 million
Beds/Baths: 6/8
Sq. Ft.: 9,710

Throw down for this stately manse and you'll win the right to call Joe Biden neighbor. Vicey himself lives in the neighborhood. The Tudor-style home has 17-inch stone walls that are stitched with timber and brick. 

See the listing for more details, or see AOL Real Estate's full profile on the home

The home's interior has ebony-stained floors, and amenities include a library, breakfast room, great room, "executive kitchen," gymnasium and au pair room. 

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Location: West Palm Beach-Boca Raton, Fla. 
Median Price Increase: 18.48 percent

Home Price: $3.4 million
Beds/Baths: 6/7
Sq. Ft.: 7,043

This lavish mansion boasts membership in Harbour Isles, a ritzy, secluded community. In fact, ever single home has a dock, according to the listing. The 7,000-square-foot home has over 90 feet of waterfront for itself. 

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Pictured here is the home's columned patio that offers soul-soothing river views. 

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Location: Punta Gorda, Fla. 
Median Price Increase: 19.35 percent

Home Price: $1.15 million
Beds/Baths: 3/2
Sq. Ft.: 3,950

Overlooking a stretch of creek, this luxury property spans four verdant acres. Of all the interior highlights, the great room really caught our eye, thanks to some creative copy on the part of the property's listing description. Inside the cavernous room, the "Built in Wood/Gas Fireplace is perfect for snuggling on [the] occasional cool Florida evening," the description says.  

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The home has a gourmet kitchen with cherry cabinets, marble countertops, dual ovens and its very own "butcher block." There's also a glass-enclosed pool that overlooks the property's creek. 

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Location: Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz. 
Median Price Increase: 20.62 percent

Home Price: $4 million
Beds/Baths: 6/8
Sq. Ft.: 9,309

Located in the city that posted the second-highest year-over-year increase in home prices for February, according to Realtor.com, this $4 million mansion features marble and oak floors, beveled glass windows and custom cabinetry. Oh, and also close to 10,000 square feet of space. 

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The home has a guest house and expansive courtyard connected to the gourmet kitchen. Amenities run the gamut: The home has a game room, wine cellar, music room and potting room, among other perks.  

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Location: Miami
Median Price Increase: 26.19 percent

Home Price: $7.7 million
Beds/Baths: 6/7
Sq. Ft.: 6,500

This sprawling apartment nestles into one of Miami's soaring residential skyscrapers. Price per square foot for the contemporary is a whopping $1,185. 

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The sleek, lavish interior opens up to a balcony perched over Miami's waterfront. Occupants can suck in the jaw-dropping views while lounging in an outdoor hottub. 

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Real estate professionals also stress that a housing recovery should not be judged from a birds-eye view, since market conditions vary dramatically from state-to-state and city-to-city. In states walloped by the real estate market collapse, real estate agents are significantly more optimistic that home prices will rise in the next six months.

Eighty percent of Arizona real estate agents and homeowners, 75 percent of Nevada agents and homeowners and 51 percent of Florida agents and homeowners told HomeGain that they believe home values will rise in the next six months. The optimism in Florida dovetails with dramatic price gains recently reported by Realtor.com. The online marketplace reports that out of the 10 metropolitan areas that saw the highest price increases in their database in February of 2011, seven were in Florida. Miami median home prices increased by 26.19 percent, the listing service says.

Meanwhile, in states that weathered the housing crisis relatively well, a much higher percentage of real estate agents and homeowners believe that prices will drop. In Connecticut, 60 percent of agents surveyed said that they thought prices would continue to fall.

Follow Teke Wiggin on Twitter (@tkwiggin), follow @AOLRealEstate, or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.

See also:
Strategic Default: Would Half of Homeowners Walk Away?
Foreclosure Starts and Sales Spiked in January, Report Says

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