Homes are selling in 2 weeks or less

Prashant Gopal / Bloomberg News /

The U.S. housing market, entering its busiest season, is tipped so far in favor of sellers that almost a third of listings in areas from Washington, D.C., to Denver and Seattle are under contract in two weeks or less.

One home in Washington attracted 168 offers in December and sold for almost twice the asking price. About 70 people lined up last month for a lottery to select buyers for four available houses in a San Ramon, Calif., subdivision where, in August, bidders camped for weeks to secure purchases.

A plunge in U.S. home listings to a 12-year low is driving up prices and preventing transactions from returning to historically normal levels. Many potential sellers are holding off until values rise more, while investors are snatching up distressed properties before they reach the market. Builders, reporting their best orders in years, can’t increase production fast enough. As buyers seek to take advantage of record-low mortgage rates, the supply and demand imbalance threatens to further limit deals as the key spring selling season approaches.

“There is just no inventory for buyers,” said Bob Cilk, an agent with Re/Max Accord in Pleasanton, Calif., where only 27 single-family houses are available, about a third of the normal level.

While rising values eventually will compel would-be sellers to list their homes, inventories may remain tight for a year or two because prices need to rise another five or 10 percent before enough sellers can cover mortgage and transaction costs, said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Penn.

Home prices rose in December

WASHINGTON — U.S. house prices in December were 8.3 percent higher than a year earlier, the strongest advance since May 2006, CoreLogic said Tuesday. But the data also show the considerable distance to go before the housing market reaches pre-recession peaks.

The December monthly price gain was 0.4 percent.

CoreLogic said 46 of 50 states registered gains for the year. Arizona had the strongest year-on-year appreciation at 20.2 percent, though prices are down 39.8 percent there from the peak.

Nationally, prices are down 26.9 percent from the April 2006 peak.

— Steve Goldstein, MarketWatch

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