When home builders, the most depressed segment of the real estate industry, begin expressing optimism about a modest turnaround in the marketplace, maybe it's time for even the most dour doomsayers to listen.

Last week's home builders sentiment survey released by Wells Fargo and the National Association of Home Builders produced the single biggest monthly jump since 2003.

The survey focused on builders' perceptions of traffic at sales sites and expectations of sales in the coming six months, both were up sharply from the previous month.

Builders cited low prices, low interest rates, and the $8,000 federal home purchase tax credit as key reasons for their positive outlook.

Mortgage rates continued their decline into the upper 4 percent range last week -- averaging just 4.7 percent for 30-year fixed rate loans and 4.5 percent for 15 year money.

Some large builders have been sweetening those rates even more by "buying down" interest costs for purchasers to 3 percent or less, fixed for 30 years.

Of course, big improvements in traffic and sales projections do not necessarily mean that builders - or the real estate market as a whole -- are out of the woods.

To put the builders' sentiment survey into perspective: It's still far below the point where the builders themselves rate market conditions as "good." Most builders still rate their situations as "fair" to "poor." But they do see movement toward much better conditions ahead.

In that sense, home builders may be tuned into a much larger public perception change underway about the national economy. The Gallup polling organization's latest "Consumer Mood Index" rose sharply last week, and is now higher than it was at the same time last year.

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke expressed a similar, mildly optimistic view last week in public comments, as did President Obama.

Meanwhile, there's fresh evidence that, despite all the moaning and groaning about real estate being in the doldrums, there's a rising amount of business getting done. Wells Fargo reported a three billion dollar first quarter profit, much of it because of record results from its home mortgage operations.

Home sales in a number of hard-hit local areas continue to soar. In Orlando, Florida, for example, March sales were nearly 50 percent higher than March 2008.

And listing prices in major markets defied expectations by showing small monthly increases, according to a new report from Altos Research and Real IQ. In sixteen of the largest U.S. housing markets, according to the survey, listing prices were up by an average 1.1 percent.

Bottom line here: Think positive -- at least a little.

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