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Freddie Mac: Mortgage Rates to Stay Low in 2012

Nothaft adds that the U.S. housing market should grow brighter, although not significantly so, in 2012. He expects the rental market to boost the entire housing market.

"A full-fledged recovery in the housing sector will likely elude the U.S. in 2012, but new construction and home sales are expected to be greater than in 2011," he says. "The rental market appears to be leading the housing recovery, as rents have risen in most markets, vacancies are down and property values for professionally managed complexes are up in most neighborhoods. Single-family starts may inch higher too, but no significant bounce-back in single-family construction is likely in coming quarters."

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One problem area for housing is the sales volume linked to existing homes. That market should rise by up to 5%, Nothaft says, driven by low prices. But those low prices should keep buyers away from pricier new homes, and thus help stall the overall housing market.

"A strong headwind holding back new home sales is the very affordable competition from existing homes," Nothaft adds. "Low mortgage rates and existing house prices could lead to a bump-up in sales by 3% to 5% in 2012 over the 2011 level. While encouraging, sales volume is still low, given the strong current affordability of housing."

It's not necessarily a bearish outlook. Nothaft does say that housing and the overall U.S. economy should grow (the latter by 2.5%) in 2012. But it's tepid growth, at best, and the entire housing market remains vulnerable to larger forces affecting the global economy (such as bank failures in Europe or another recession here in the U.S.).

Still, it's a rosier estimate than the housing market experienced in December 2010 going into 2011. It's not much, but Freddie Mac's outlook for 2012 is an upward one, and that means some hope for homeowners -- and especially for homebuyers -- going into the new year.

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