New 'heroes' behind rebound in home sales

Tony Avelar/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Cesar Dias's Repo Home Tours was one of the foreclosure tours featured on The Learning Channel's "Deals on the Bus."

America's housing market has a new set of heroes.

They're young, bullish about the future, and buying homes. They're showing up on reality shows. And they're finally beginning to have an impact.

These first-time home buyers accounted for half of all home sales in an surprisingly upbeat February, according to a report released Monday by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The sales of existing homes rebounded 5.1 percent over January's seasonally adjusted figure.

Prices up, too

More impressively, the sales didn't come because home prices were falling. They actually increased slightly – by $800 – between January and February. The median national price of an existing home (single-family, condo, or townhouse) is now $165,400.

The increase in buyer traffic apparently came at the end of the month, after the federal government initiated an $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers, said NAR President Charles McMillan.

The real estate market is still extremely sluggish. Compared with a year ago, February's sales rate is still 4.6 percent lower and median prices are 15.5 percent lower. Still, the situation appears to be bottoming out.

New reality TV

You can tell something's changed by switching on the television, where reality TV is beginning to reflect (surprise!) what's actually going on.

Last October, TLC aired its last new episode of "Flip That House." Anyone who was trying to buy, remodel, and quickly resell a home in 2008 was living in Oz. House-flippers were the old heroes of reality TV. [Editor's note: This story was modified to reflect the channel's current name.]

The new heroes began showing up on TLC Jan. 31, when it began airing "Deals on the Bus." Every week prospective buyers board a bus and tour foreclosed properties. At the end of the show, buyers put down their money.

Are they right? Mortgage rates are near their recent lows. Is it time to buy real estate?

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