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When Will the First-Time Homebuyer Step Forward?

In other words, investor interest will decline and home prices will moderate, offering an entry point for buyers. Significantly, as the market starts to resemble a more "normal" one, lenders also will become more comfortable with credit, said Meyer.

Credit will certainly not ease up as much as it did in the bubble days or even in the late 1990s. Indeed, Meyer said she expects homeownership rates to drop to 63% from 65% currently in a new normal housing environment.

"Lessons have been learned from the housing crisis. A normal housing market will not mean returning to a bubble," she said. "A normal housing market will be one where credit is not as available, homeownership is lower, but housing turnover picks up and homebuyers participate."

Right now, home prices are rising as strong demand from investors and buyers are outpacing supply.

Meyer forecasts home prices to rise by a solid 11.8% in 2013 and by another 6.5% in 2014 before petering out in 2015 and 2016.

Although home prices will moderate in the future, buyer sentiment will remain positive so long as prices go up, she said. In fact, the slowdown in the pace of recovery might help reassure buyers that this isn't a "bubble," Meyer said.

To be sure, confidence in the housing recovery remains an important factor for first-time homebuyers.

Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko noted that there are nearly 2.4 million "missing households" -- people who should be renting or buying but instead choose to live with parents or under the roof of someone else, a sign that confidence about the economy is still low.

"Not only are young people not buying homes; they're not even renting," Kolko wrote in a post. "Household formation is the most important indicator of the housing recovery that ISN'T making great strides," said Kolko.

Still, on the plus side, the missing households represent huge "pent-up demand" that could be unleashed once the economy improves.

Kolko also expects some loosening in credit over time as mortgage regulations, scheduled to go into effect in January 2014, bring greater clarity to the industry.

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