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house in human handsHousing numbers are looking hopeful for the spring season, according to Clear Capital’s recently released Home Data Index™ (HDI) Market Report with data through April 2015.

“While spring brings renewed confidence and demand, the numbers through April are mixed,” says Alex Villacorta, Ph.D., vice president of research and analytics at Clear Capital. “Sales may be up, but subsiding gains imply the recovery is at a critical inflection point. As the market normalizes—a good thing for housing overall—small losses could have greater impact, forcing a standstill or even worse, a return to negative territory in certain areas across the country.”

April marks the sixth consecutive month of softening quarterly appreciation for the nation. While single-digit and percentage point gains can rally consumers, the overall health and recovery of the market is far from a sure thing. National home prices through April 2015 are up 5.1 percent year-over-year, while the quarterly rate of growth continued its path to normalization coming in at 0.5 percent. Suggestions that the market continues to recover at the clip we saw in 2012-2013 is misleading.

While early predictions called for gains in the Midwest, the region remains volatile. Most of the regions sustained price growth through the winter, while the Midwest is already seeing negative quarterly declines of -0.10 percent. For nearly seven years, it has struggled to get on equal footing with the nation. Still in the wake of the worst housing crash in modern history, the Midwest’s regional legacy has made gains all the more difficult to hang on to.

“Confidence is down in April, suggesting consumers aren’t quite convinced that the economy, much less housing, is as rosy as some early spring metrics suggest,” says Villacorta. “Yet, we continue to see blooms of opportunity as distressed properties continue to provide fertile ground for investors of all sizes to take advantage of a red hot rental market. As we saw back in early 2013, this type of inventory can be the catalyst that revives confidence and re-engagement.”

Within the top performing markets for April, eight are Western markets. While the West’s market-by-market performance may exceed the other regions, gains have been softening since the beginning of 2014—hence softening gains at the national level.

Three Florida markets that rank among the top performers boast high levels of distressed saturation (REO and short sales). All three markets have distressed saturation rates that are at least 10 percentage points higher than the national level, at 16.5 percent, suggesting growth is dependent on a higher propensity of distressed inventory in this area.

REOs are now part of the consumer lexicon. In this recovery, the stigma once associated with REOs (poor condition, buyer beware) has turned around. Today, REOs and short sales signal opportunity to investors and traditional homebuyers alike, and an indication that market-level gains could be ahead. The Jacksonville, FL MSA’s overall market performance, including low and distressed sales, shows quarterly growth of 1 percent and yearly growth of 6.8 percent. This is nearly double that of the MSA’s fair market performance at .5 percent quarterly growth and 3.7 percent yearly growth—more evidence that Jacksonville’s performance relies on distressed opportunities.

San Francisco MSA behavior offers more grounds for continued moderation across the country. The MSA is posting quarterly growth of 0.8 percent and yearly growth of 8.6 percent. While at first blush, this sounds pretty healthy for winter, a steady decline in quarterly performance over the past two years is on track with historical appreciation rates for the MSA.

“While gains and subsiding losses in the here-and-now are both good signs of a normalizing market, making sense of the numbers to reveal underlying trends is key for all market participants,” Villacorta notes. “Bottom line, the early spring numbers are encouraging but rest assured, the overall market is far from being ‘back to normal’. There is reason to be hopeful, but arm yourself with accurate data and remember to read headline numbers with the right perspective.”

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