What Homebuyers Can Be Thankful for in 2013

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Homebuyers have had it tough lately, suddenly finding themselves in a sellers market as summer came along. And mortgages suddenly cost more too -- when you could even get one. But of course Thanksgiving isn't about looking at negatives. So, if you can, look past that elephant-in-the-room that is the credit crunch and take stock of what's now on the table for those homebuyers with the capital.

Low Mortgage Rates: Yes, mortgage rates rose year, along with home prices, but rates are still at historic lows (we are constantly assured) and have been sinking in recent weeks. Can housing prices be far behind? If you are really ready to buy, those Black Friday bargains are small potatoes compared to what you might save by shopping right now in real estate's historically slow season -- especially from sellers who saw summer's homebuying frenzy pass them by.

A Bidding-War Cease-Fire: The heated bidding wars that have been witnessed in some real estate markets -- especially in California -- reportedly have cooled with the weather and amid rumors that sellers were deliberately underpricing their homes to encourage competing bids. And although home prices continued to climb as summer drew to a close, it was at a slower pace. Meanwhile, the number of Americans applying for home loans has plunged.

Weary and Wary Investors: Speaking of the competition, the real estate speculators appear headed for the sidelines after years of swooping in to snatch up bargain properties with ready cash. A recent poll of investors found that only around 1 in 5 are still interested in buying more homes -- about half the number from a year ago. For average home-shoppers that means less competition from a preferred class of homebuyers. Meanwhile, those foreign investors who were reportedly buying Florida property sight-unseen at the beginning of 2013 (and even giving Detroit a nibble) might have moved on to Portugal and Spain, where 3 million homes lie vacant and the governments are ready to barter with tax incentives and visas.

The 'Nuclear Option': What does the real estate market have to do with the recent change in the U.S. Senate's filibuster rules? It means that Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), the Obama administration's nominee to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency might finally be confirmed. And if that happens -- and it's only a glimmer of a possibility at this point -- Watt might drop plans to lower the ceiling on the amount of money available for government-backed mortgages. Ideological and political conflicts aside, that would be good news right now for homebuyers who might otherwise not be able to afford their dream homes.

The Latest Technology: In many ways technology has made home shopping easier than ever -- much less dependent on guesswork and reliance on third parties -- and it only seems to be getting more convenient. Along with smartphone apps for homebuyers (many of them free) that calculate mortgage payments and estimate home values, there's at least one that instantly accesses information about a home just by taking a snapshot of it with a smartphone camera. Others detect homes with recent price reductions; screen for upcoming open houses; rate neighborhoods on the basis of crime rates; and do the numbers based on "lifestyle" -- such as how much it might cost to commute to work from a new location. So even if you aren't ready or able to buy, some of these apps can aid in a search for a rental.

More about homebuying:
Housing Market's Slow Season: Best Time to Shop for a Home?
Peak Season for House Hunting in Each State
Buying a House in the Fall? Avoid These Pitfalls

HOMES FOR SALE IN AMERICA'S TOP TURNAROUND MARKETS:
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Top Turnaround Markets
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What Homebuyers Can Be Thankful for in 2013

Despite progress over the past several years, nearly half of Las Vegas homeowners are said to still be underwater on their mortgages in this Sin City, often cited as ground zero for the housing boom and bust.  

As of the third quarter of 2013, the median list price at $169,900 was up 11.0 percent from $153,000 in the second quarter, and up 30.8 percent from $129,900 one year ago. In Las Vegas, the pendulum has been swinging in a positive direction long enough to qualify it for the list of top turnaround towns, ranking seventh in price increases and 12th in inventory decline.  Further, the pace of decline in age of inventory -– down 23.5 percent compared to year-ago levels -– places it within the top 25 percent of markets in the country –- a clear sign of favorable momentum.

The pictured three-bedroom, two-story home on Mahogany Meadows Ave has 1,800 square feet and was built in 2005. There is a loft area, and an enclosed back patio. It is located in a guard-gated community with basketball courts, a pool and clubhouse.

See more homes for sale in Las Vegas.

Tight inventory is Boulder’s secret to landing on this quarter’s top turnaround towns list. It trimmed its inventory of homes for sale by 18.1 percent compared to the third quarter of last year and ranked seventh in the nation for declining age of inventory, as inventory is down 18.1 percent.  The median list price, at  $359,000, is down 12.5 percent.

Boulder’s already-thin housing supply was stretched further when heavy rains fell on the eastern slope of the Rockies in September, causing massive flooding in Boulder and El Paso counties.  However, Boulder’s relative health is worth remembering, and its likely quick return to its equalized buyer-seller home buying marketplace is anticipated for later this year.

The pictured home is listed for $360,000. It has only one bedroom, but at 1,008 square-feet, it sits on just over two acres.

See more homes for sale in Boulder.

With a median list price at $344,900 in the third quarter of 2013, Boston is one of the wealthier markets in the nation. It was less seriously hampered by the housing crash of recent years, however, like many markets that suffered greatly at the hands of foreclosures, Boston has cut its inventory deeply in recent years, earning fourth place in terms of inventory reduction during the third quarter of 2013.

Affordability was a serious issue in many Boston-area communities before the housing crash and now tight inventories have helped push median sales prices up 9.5 percent year-over-year in the third quarter.

The pictured four-bedroom Colonial home, listed at $345,000, looks even bigger than its 1,974-square feet. Built in 1910, it has hardwood floors, built-ins, and baseboard heating.

See more homes for sale in Boston.

Even though they are two of the wealthiest resort areas in the country, West Palm Beach and Boca Raton have had their share of challenges during the housing crash, not to mention Florida’s struggles with foreclosures. However, the West Palm-Boca market has taken the critical first step toward recovery.

While year-on-year inventory fell 20.7 percent in the third quarter of 2013, inventory counts fell 13.3 percent from the previous quarter, a sign that sellers are responding to higher prices and soon inventories will register positive gains.  More houses lagging on the market in the slower fall and winter seasons could bring prices quickly under control and see this market find its own equilibrium in pace with the rest of the country. 

This three-bedroom home in the Foxwood Estates Community was totally renovated, including knocking down walls. There is also a newer roof on this 1985-built home, which sits on a corner lot.

See more homes for sale in the West Palm Beach-Boca Raton area.

A newcomer to the Top 10 list, Dallas is one of those markets that did not rise much during the housing boom and did not fall very far either.  Its median list price is $210,000, and its path to recovery has not been very steep at all, and as a result Dallas has rebounded more easily than some markets.

Inventories rose in the third quarter of 2013 by 3.1 percent compared to the previous quarter. The seasonal inventory rise as the buying season ends could indeed have a dampening effect on prices.

The pictured three-bedroom, two-bath home has 2,156 square feet and is in a gated community. Upgrades in this 2003-built home include teak floors, a recent roof and revamped air conditioning.

See more homes for sale in Dallas.

Known primarily as the home of the University of Michigan, this smaller market just missed the Top 10 ranking last quarter.  Ann Arbor scored in the top 20th percentile among 146 markets in three of the most critical areas: size of inventory, price gains and age of inventory. Together, these metrics almost entirely define a market’s turnaround potential. While an improving economy is part of the reason, a shrinking inventory of homes has put upward pressure on price.

This 1,312-square-foot home is listed for $190,000. In addition to the three bedrooms, it also has a three-season sun porch and a non-maintenance deck. There are even "charming glass door knobs," according to the listing.

See more homes for sale in Ann Arbor.

Still down 13.8 percent this quarter compared to year-ago levels, Fort Lauderdale’s inventory shortfall has lit a fire this year under once-lagging prices.  As inventories remained flat in recent months, prices in Fort Lauderdale have risen in the third quarter of 2013. The region is entering a more buyer-leaning marketplace, with reports of sellers in Fort Lauderdale offering incentives to purchase, such as seller contributions to buyers’ closing costs and allowances for upgrades and renovations.

This four-bedroom, tri-level townhome in the greater-Fort Lauderdale area, is located in Sunrise, Fla., and has a recently reduced list price of $180,000. It has a one-car garage and a balcony that overlooks a courtyard. Built in 1995, it is bank-owned.

See more homes for sale in the Fort Lauderdale area.

Through the third quarter of 2013, Reno has continued to reduce inventory at a rate of 19.8 percent and prices are up 28.2 percent compared to the third quarter of 2012. The median list price is $249,900.

With declining inventory, the Reno market is now moving into a far healthier balance than it experienced this time in 2012. Achieving both this balance and healthy growth is a remarkable achievement for a market that lost a significant amount of its value in years past. 

The pictured home on Glacier Meadow Drive, has an upper-level loft that can be converted into a bedroom. Built in 2010, the three-bedroom home has engineered wood floors in the living room, kitchen, dining area and hallway. There's also a great view of the mountains and the valley.

See more homes for sale in Reno.

Now in second place, Santa Barbara, is now the only remaining California market on this list, compared to reports from last quarter and the year-ago quarter, which were populated by six and seven California markets, respectively.

It is also the only one on the Top 10 list that appeared in turnaround town reports for the previous quarter as well as the same period last year. It's improving due to the young age of its inventory and the noticeable decline in its inventory count, which is down by 15.9 percent.

It's median list price is also up 27.1 percent, to $697,777. 

The pictured three-bedroom home is listed for $665,000 after a huge price reduction.  It has a grand staircase, cathedral ceilings and a three-car garage.

See more homes for sale in Santa Barbara.

And the top turnaround town for third quarter is Detroit. Last quarter it ranked seventh in the report, and this rapid jump to No. 1 speaks volumes about its pace of acceleration. The city's descent into bankruptcy clearly did not hurt the housing market as much as might have been predicted.

However, at the end of the buying season, prices in Detroit slowed in the third quarter, falling 4.8 percent from the previous quarter, but staying at 44.3 percent above the third quarter of 2012. Equally important is Detroit’s success at trimming its for-sale inventory and the age of its inventory, down 24.5 percent and 33.9 percent respectively, year over year.

The three-bedroom home pictured is listed for $125,000, the median list price for the area. It has 1,805 square feet and was built in 1927. It still has the original hardwood flooring, but also has marble countertops in the bath, as well as a jetted tub. The basement is finished.

See more homes for sale in Detroit.

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