Housing Has Nowhere To Go But Up -- Or Down

Toll Brothers today said its first-quarter profit plunged 67% compared with last year, citing weighty writedowns and other costs, and the luxury-home builder's CEO, Robert Toll, said there are still too many soft markets. Which raises the question: Has the bottom come at last?

Paul Puryear isn't so sure. The Raymond James housing analyst said on "Power Lunch" that Toll Brothers' results were actually "better than we were expecting" -- but stopped short of declaring the less-disappointing loss a positive. He noted such doleful omens as "vacant homes with 'For Sale' signs" at "historic highs," and said the first big weekend of the spring selling season was weaker than many had hoped.

Bernard Markstein is a bit more optimistic. The staff vice president for economics at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), Markstein sees "some stabilization" and even some "improvement" on the market's demand side. He told CNBC's Sue Herera that mortgage applications are "generally improved" and that the NAHB's own housing index is up.

The VP noted that delinquencies and defaults among high-risk subprime borrowers is on the rise, but said he sees a potentially positive trend in the flight of "speculators and flippers" from the market -- leaving the field to people who actually reside in their acquisitions, and thus invest for the long haul.