The U.S. housing market continues to improve, but it's not quite there yet.
In fact, it's about three-quarters of the way back to, "normal." That is the conclusion of a new report from Trulia, a real estate sales and analytics company. The dispatch weighs existing home sales and prices, new construction, mortgage delinquencies and the millennial employment rate.
Existing homes, both sales and prices, appear to be leading the overall recovery. Trulia gauges that they are both 82 percent back to normal levels, compared with a year ago, when they were just 73 and 66 percent recovered, respectively.
"We'll continue to see improvement in existing home sales, as I expect we'll see more inventory this year," said Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia. "That could further slow down price gains, but should add to the volume of sales."
The weakest area of recovery is in employment of 25- to 34-year-olds, the millennial generation. It is just 46 percent back to normal levels, although it did see some gains in the latest monthly report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employment of these young adults was at 76.4 percent in December, up from 75.5 percent a year ago, and the highest in six years, according to the BLS.
"But keep in mind that's only halfway back to normal. Having a job matters for housing," added Kolko, who cites U.S. Census data showing just 12 percent of employed 25- to 34-year-olds live with their parents, versus nearly twice as many unemployed who do.
Single-family housing starts are still struggling, as household formation is almost entirely on the rental side. That is good news for the multifamily apartment sector, but not for the nation's home builders.
Another laggard is loan delinquencies. More than 1 million properties had foreclosure filings in 2014, according to a new report from RealtyTrac. That is the lowest level since 2006, but, again, it's not back to normal. In fact, newly started foreclosures jumped to a 17-month high in December, as lenders got more aggressive in clearing out the backlog of delinquent mortgages.
"A recent surge in foreclosure starts and scheduled foreclosure auctions in several states in the last few months of 2014 indicate that lenders are gearing up for a spring cleaning of deferred distress in the first half of 2015 in some local markets," said RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist in the report.
The pool of distressed loans has not increased, but some states have had significant delays in foreclosure processing, leaving cases open for several years. On the bright side, the housing market is so desperate for lower-priced homes right now that as these properties are repossessed and put up for sale, they should be swept up by buyers relatively quickly.