NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In a week the Federal Reserve reiterated its goals for the economy -- "maximum employment and 2% inflation," homebuyers are picking over a thin inventory of homes, with a sharp eye on value.
The Fed says it will keep interest rates low for the foreseeable future, and that should help homebuyers, who need low interest rates to keep prices as low as possible for their springtime house hunt. (The 30-year fixed home mortgage rate is 4.31%, according to the BankingMyWay Mortgage Rate Tracker.)
As far as home affordability goes, midpriced homes are the best value plays for buyers, according to Clear Capital, a Truckee, Calif., real estate analysis firm.
Clear Capital's Home Data Index shows the best home-buying value doesn't lie anymore in low-tier homes (priced at less than $95,000), but instead are in midtier homes (in the $95,000 to $300,000 range).
It takes a little math, but Clear Capital makes a compelling point. During the aftermath of the economic fallout of 2008-09, buyers turned to less expensive homes. But that led to a solid rebound in the lower end of the market, where average prices across the U.S. are now 21.5% lower than peak value.
Overall, the sale of lower-priced homes have risen by 32.6% since 2011, leading to an opening in the midrange home market where prices are lower on a relative basis, clocking in at 30.6% below peak sales, Clear Capital says.
The firm says high-end homes, valued at $311,000 and above, are at 18% off peak values.
Even with opportunity in the $95,000 to $310,000 range, Clear Capital describes the spring home sales season as "tepid," with growth rates "virtually unchanged" across most of the U.S.
That doesn't mean the firm is down on the housing market -- just that there are a lot of moving parts that need to fall in place before the market can really move forward.
"Very interesting dynamics are at play as we head into spring," says Dr. Alex Villacorta, a vice president of research at Clear Capital. "Though our April data suggests the spring buying season is off to a slow start, we aren't concerned about the sustainability of the recovery."
"To be clear, there are lots of adjustments taking place in housing markets across the country. Everything from lender regulation, consumer confidence, investors tapering purchases, local economics and rising home prices have forced participants to continually adjust to a market that has been anything but stable," Villacorta adds.
Clear Capital does expect prices to stabilize this year, with home prices now in a "new normal" 3% to 5% annual growth range. With double-digit price gains off the board, buyers should be more active, but that activity should focus on the middle range of the housing market.
"Looking at home price trends by tier, it's apparent the impact of investor activity has been concentrated in the low price tier segment," Villacorta says. "Conversely, the segment of the market that represents the middle 50% of all transactions is still more than 30% off peak values. This suggests that there is good price growth potential and could motivate enough buyers to sustain an overall rate of home price growth consistent with historical norms."
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