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Home Price Bottom or Bubble?




By Diana Olick, CNBC Real Estate Reporter

NEW YORK (CNBC) -- Home prices rose, just barely, in the second quarter of this year annually for the first time since 2007, according to online real estate firm Zillow. That prompted the popular site to call a "bottom" to home prices nationally. The increase was a mere 0.2%, but in today's touch and go housing recovery, that was enough.

Nearly one third of the 167 markets Zillow tracks in this survey saw annual price gains from a year ago.

"After four months with rising home values and increasingly positive forecast data, it seems clear that the country has hit a bottom in home values," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. "The housing recovery is holding together despite lower-than-expected job growth, indicating that it has some organic strength of its own."

Zillow's report, which compares prices of homes sold in the same neighborhood, also showed a stronger 2.1% gain quarter to quarter, which is the biggest uptick since 2005. The biggest price gains, however, are in the markets that saw the biggest price drops during the latest housing crash. Phoenix, for example, saw a 12% annual price gain on the Zillow index.

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That has other analysts claiming that the overall surge in national prices is due to price bubbles in certain markets.

"Strong demand, particularly in areas of California, Arizona and Nevada, are pushing up home prices very quickly in the short-term. And because many of the home purchases in these areas are cash transactions, there appears to be less braking of prices by our current appraisal system than seen in other parts of the country," noted Thomas Popik, research director for Campbell Surveys and chief analyst for HousingPulse. "The trend raises the distinct possibility of housing price bubbles emerging in some of these hot housing markets."

The supply of foreclosed properties for sale has been dropping steadily, as lenders try to modify more loans or actively pursue foreclosure alternatives, like short sales (where the home is sold for less than the value of the mortgage). Investors, eager to take advantage of the hot rental market, are having to spread out to more markets in order to find the best deals.

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