The Realtors' monthly index fell 5.4 percent in the Northeast month-to-month, rose 0.9 percent in the Midwest, fell 4.5 percent in the South and fell 8.2 percent in the West. The West, and its severely distressed markets like Phoenix and Las Vegas, has been the center of most investor interest and is therefore seeing the lowest supply of properties for sale. The West is also the only region that saw a year-over-year decline in signed sales contracts in December.
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Housing inventory usually drops in the winter months, only to rebound in the spring, but this winter has seen a larger than normal decline. Realtors are looking for more homes to come on the market in the spring, but there are still 10.7 million borrowers who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, and an additional 2.3 million who have less than five percent equity in their homes, according to CoreLogic. Those homeowners cannot sell without having to pay into their mortgages, so they are largely stuck in place. First-time home buyers are purchasing at an unusually low rate due to tighter credit standards, and many potential sellers simply don't want to list until prices rise more substantially.
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"We expect a seasonal rise of inventory in the spring to help, but a seller's market may be developing," notes Yun. "Much of the West is already a seller's market for homes priced under a million dollars, but conditions are much more balanced in the Northeast."
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