Buying a Home Won't Get Much Cheaper

By Les Christie

Buying a home may never get any cheaper than this. Several housing experts are predicting that this year will be the last chance for bargain hunters to cash in on the best deals of the weak housing market.

With home prices down 34% nationally since 2006 and mortgage rates at historic lows, homes have never been more affordable -- but it won't stay this way for much longer.

Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for PNC Financial Services, said he expects home prices to flatten out by the third quarter and start climbing by next year.

A number of factors will help bolster the housing market, he said, including a decline in the number of foreclosures and continued job growth. In addition, homebuyers will have better access to mortgages as they get their finances in order and improve their credit scores.

"This is a strong indicator that we will start seeing home price indexes, like the S&P/Case-Shiller, start to report home price increases this summer," he said.

Prospective homebuyers who've been sitting on the fence shouldn't worry if they aren't quite ready to make the leap. Analysts are predicting that the initial price gains will be modest, at least, in most markets.

Read more at CNNMoney.

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Homes With Great Outdoor Features
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Buying a Home Won't Get Much Cheaper

Spring buying season is here, and it may not have come at a better time for Americans thinking about taking the real estate plunge. Call us sanguine, but market bellwethers seem to suggest that housing's five-year descent has finally come to an end.

With home affordability scraping record heights
, now may be the best time to buy in decades, with one caveat: You should look at a home purchase the old-fashioned way -- as an investment in a living space, not a high-performing stock. Home prices are not going to rocket upward, as in the "steroid years."

To celebrate the warm weather (and uptick in home construction and sales that usually accompany it), AOL Real Estate brings you homes on the market with some of the most mouth-watering outdoor entertaining spaces. Click through our galleries to see outdoor features of every stripe, ranging from free-form terraced pools to zen gardens. 

Location: Old Greenwich, Conn.
Price: $14.5 million
Beds/Baths: 5/6
Sq. Ft.: 8,100

This waterfront mansion in woodsy Greenwich, Conn., is set on the much-coveted Long Island Sound waterfront. Behind its mogul-worthy exterior awaits some stunning outdoor space. 

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Flanked by a luscious pool is a semi-enclosed patio, circled by by a stone wall, bushes and columns.

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The columns support a pergola laced with free-flowing vines. Taken with its otherwise-groomed features, the space offers a pitch-perfect blend of natural and man-made elements. 

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Location: Sarasota, Fla.
Price: $12.9 million
Beds/Baths: 5/9
Sq Ft: 9,202 

This elegant villa sits behind gargoyle-lined walls, mixing "classic mediterranean architecture with Moorish flair." Amenities include a gourmet kitchen, media room, two-story office and exquisite murals. 

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The luxury home is brimming with extravagant outdoor spaces, boasting eight open-air porches and patios that overlook a lagoon-like pool and the salty expanse beyond. 

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The columned, curtain-draped cabana is "second to none," the listing says. It presides over a waterfall, spa, water slide, lounging area and the next logical conclusion for such lavish space: a stage for live entertainment. 

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Location: Naples, Fla. 
Price: $12 million
Beds/Baths: 5/7
Sq. Ft.: 8,500

Florida has more that its share of luxurious "outdoor rooms" and spaces, and this 8,100-square-foot, palm-guarded mansion is among the best. For the deep-pocketed buyer, it also doesn't hurt that home prices, on average, have fallen 50 percent from their housing-boom peak. 

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In addition to a wide range of amenities and finishes, the home features a roofed, outdoor kitchen that hugs the home's rear, and overlooks an intoxicating series of pools. 

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The home's series of pools, at different depths, flow from one to the other. 

See the pools at the listing

Location: Santa Fe, N.M. 
Price: $4 million
Beds/Baths: 5/7
Sq. Ft.: 7,728

This pueblo-style hacienda commands 14 acres, a generous portion of which are devoted to a stunning network of naturalistic pools. 

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Described as a "free-form pool" in the listing, it includes tiered waterfalls and a hot tub, surrounded by benches and exquisite landscaping. 

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The home's covered porch overlooks a vast New Mexico landscape, including views of five mountain ranges. 

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Location: Chattanooga, Tenn.
Price: $990,000
Beds/Baths: 6/5
Sq Ft: 5,900

A classic stone and brick home in the historic town of Chattanooga. Great for a large family, it has a master suite featuring a private sitting room, three large bedrooms that share a room with a fireplace and bathroom, and a guest room on each floor.

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Outside, you’ll find a large yard, porches and stone patio with a fire pit.

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Its interior, with plenty of hardwood flooring and marble surfaces, gives the house a polished look that contrasts with the outdoor entertaining area's embrace of the elements.  

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Location: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Price: $1.395 million
Beds/Baths: 6/8
Sq Ft: 9,507

This custom-designed mansion
stretches nearly 9,507 square feet, and offers verdant landscaping -- from a lush, sweeping lawn to mature, encircling trees. 

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What sets this entertaining space apart is its nuanced approach to landscaping, which strikes the perfect balance between laissez faire and hands-on. Well-kept garden plots are set against a backdrop of bushy trees. The rich expanse is anchored by a minimalist pool. The home also features a wrap-around patio, fireplace and hot tub. 

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Location: Andover, Kan.
Price: $2.999 million
Beds/Baths: 5/9
Sq. Ft.: 7,998

Built in 2009, this solidly built luxury home delivers a lot of bang for its buck. Interior features include vaulted ceilings and doorways. There's elaborate stonework throughout. 

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At its rear sits a large outdoor patio that stretches out from an open-air room. The paved expanse eventually reaches a hot tub. 

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Encased in brick, stone and wood, the home's exquisite outdoor room features a kitchen and massive stone fireplace. 

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Location: San Diego
Price: $595,000
Beds/Baths: 3/2
Sq. Ft.: 1,140

Though modest compared to our other picks, this Spanish-style home, which has stood since 1931, makes creative use of its outdoor space.

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The home's tiled terrace features a lushly landscaped path, and overlooks a mix of California plant life. A "shade sail" adds some flair to the area, while providing refuge from the blazing San Diego sun.

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Shade sails are trending in the world of outdoor decor, architecture and home design website Houzz says. In addition to providing, er, shade, the furnishings "lend a strong, artful, sculptural look," shade designer Tres Jones tells Houzz. We couldn't put it better! 

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Location: Naples, Fla.
Price: $11.95 million
Beds/Baths: 6/11
Sq Ft: 11,113

This house is a water-lover’s dream; it's set right on Naples Bay, and has quick access to the Gulf. With a private boatlift and dock, a quick trip out to sea is only minutes away.

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The castle-like home has an outdoor kitchen, a large pool and a hot tub, all with pristine views of the bay.

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Inside you’ll find lots of marble throughout the large hallways and open spaces, and a place to dine for any occasion. There’s a breakfast bar, breakfast room and a formal dining room. 

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Location: Houston
Price: $1,995,000
Beds/Baths: 2/4
Sq. Ft.: 3,600

This Texas mansion features exquisite landscaping and an outdoor pool that is surrounded by fragrant Asian plants, including a Chinese fringe tree, olive shrubs, and white star jasmine. Ivy weaves its way through the home's columned pergola. 

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The carefully landscaped exterior features a zen garden with a remote-controlled mosquito system, "which sprays a natural chrysanthemum repellant." 

See the listing for more details


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