Prices always make news, as well they should. A price is an important factor in determining loan amount and equity position. Price determines whether someone buys, sells, or holds. You could say that price is everything.

With that thought in mind, home prices have been volatile in 2012, which has lead to volatile sales data. But though prices have been volatile, they have been trending higher. S&P/Case-Shiller's 20-city composite home price index shows prices increased 0.2 percent in February compared to January.

Though the S&P/Case-Shiller index is the most monitored index, it's a little stale, being two months in arrears. We were more interested in contemporary price data released by Zillow, which show home values were up 0.5 percent in its 30-market index. Zillow believes 19 of the markets it follows have either hit bottom or are expected to hit bottom by the end of the year. Zillow chief economist Stan Humphries advises, "For people who have been waiting to time their home purchase close to market bottom, it’s time to start shopping.

”Not to pat ourselves too hard on the back, but we've been offering similar advice for the past six months. Now, no one can precisely call a bottom, but you can get a “vibe” in your market through experience and information. More of the vibes and much of the information is turning positive in many local markets. To be sure, bad news can still be found, but if you wait for nothing but good news, the bottom will have long been gone.

Existing home sales prove that the news still isn't all good. Sales for March came in softer than expected, posting at 4.48 million annualized units, a 2.6 percent dip from February. The good news is that market dynamics appear to be shifting from mostly low-end homes to higher-end ones: the median national home price rose a strong 4.6 percent to $163,800.

As for new homes sales, the news was decidedly good. New home sales posted a better-than-expected 328,000 annualized units in March, after being revised strongly upward to 353,000 units in February. The national median sales price dipped 1 percent, to $234,500, in March, but we'd be surprised not to see a price rebound in April, because of a dearth of new homes. In fact, the supply of unsold new homes fell to just 144,000 in March – the fewest on record dating to 1963.

Mortgage rates, meanwhile, continue to skim along the bottom, though they're showing no inclination to move meaningfully lower. Again, we can't stress enough the risk/reward paradigm in the mortgage lending market: Even after a spat of bad economic news in Europe, rates hardly moved. This suggests to us that waiting for still lower rates means incurring a great deal of risk for little reward.

Courtesy of Jessica Regan.

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