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Homeowners Need Convincing: It's Safe to Sell Now

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Ventura, Calif., has such a shortage of homes on the market these days that one of real estate agent Karen Heyrend's clients lost out on a house when it attracted more than 20 bids.

"Everybody seems to want to get into the market right now because you've got a 'perfect storm' -- great mortgage rates and low prices," says Heyrend, a Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage sales rep and head of the Ventura County Coastal Association of Realtors in suburban Los Angeles.

Realtors in many U.S. cities are reporting a severe shortage of properties for sale even as the number of house-hunters is finally recovering after years of stagnation.

"Demand has taken off, but supplies aren't there to meet it," says Ken Fears, a National Association of Realtors senior economist.

Fears blames today's low inventories on a combination of factors:

  • Word hasn't gotten around that the housing bust is winding down, so few homeowners realize they can get decent prices for their properties.
  • An estimated 11 million homeowners are still "underwater" -- owing more on their mortgages than their houses or condos are worth -- so they can't easily sell. Underwater homeowners can unload their properties only if they can convince their lenders to "forgive" the shortfall, or if they're willing to make up the difference with cash.
  • Developers built very few homes during the bust.
  • Some states' lengthy foreclosure processes are preventing banks from seizing distressed homes and putting them back on the market.

Add it all up and you get few properties for sale at a time plenty of would-be buyers are looking to lock in today's historically low mortgage rates and property prices.

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