Economists Cautiously Optimistic as Home Prices Rise

PHOTO: Sale pending sign

Good news for home buyers: According to the latest report from real estate data provider CoreLogic, home prices rose 10.2 percent in February on a year-on-year basis, the biggest annual increase since March 2006.

Nationwide, home prices have been rising rapidly, especially in Nevada (19.3 percent), Arizona (18.6 percent), California (15.3 percent), Hawaii (14.6 percent) and Idaho (13.5 percent). But they are still down more than 26 percent from April 2006, when they were at their peak, CoreLogic reported.

Phoenix; Los Angeles; Riverside, Calif.; Atlanta and New York are among cities with the biggest gains.

CoreLogic's measure of national prices also rose 0.5 percent in February from January-- a solid increase during the winter months, when sales typically slow.

The news has economists cautiously optimistic.

"Housing price increases are extremely important to the economy as they enable more refinancing, encourage employment-related mobility, and even make consumers more likely to remodel," Robert Johnson, a director of economic analysis at Morningstar, a Chicago-based investment research, told ABC News. "That's before mentioning the boost to confidence that comes with increases in home prices. There is something called the wealth effect, which posits that homeowners will spend 5% or more of their housing wealth gains over the next year or two."

Michael Lubansky, a senior financial analyst at Sageworks, Inc., a financial information company, said he agreed. "If someone is in the market for purchasing a home, it would seem now would be a good time to buy, given the combination of historically low interest rates and historically low prices," he told ABC News.

But Lubansky also advised caution, saying there are still reasons for many not to buy, especially for people in jobs or industries that might require them to relocate. "If they are not certain they will be in the same place for more than five years, it generally doesn't make sense to buy," he said.

Also, he said, getting a loan can still be difficult for someone without good credit or sufficient funds for a down payment. And though rental prices, which often inspire people to purchase a home, are rising and the employment picture is improving, "it takes time after this for the newly employed to purchase homes," he said. "By this time, rental prices may have stabilized as developers scramble to increase supply, which would lessen the incentive from this angle."

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