Home prices fall again: Eight keys to the housing market future

US home prices fell 1 percent in November compared with the previous month, according to a widely followed 20-city index released by Standard & Poor's Tuesday. It's the latest sign that, five years after home prices peaked, the housing market remains an important weak link in the economy. Still, housing experts say 2011 could be a pivotal year when home prices bottom out and a more stable environment begins to emerge. Here's a look at the key issues.

1. Is it going to be a buyer's or a seller's market?

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
New home for sale in suburban Raleigh, NC.

The big picture is pretty simple and familiar: America has an excess supply of homes on the market, due to an ongoing surge of loan defaults and foreclosures.

Spring is often a busy season for home sales, as is the fall, with families trying to find new digs as one school year winds down or as another one begins. But that doesn't mean buyers will outnumber sellers.

"It's still a buyer's market," says Maria Peña-Morales, who manages a team of real estate agents at RE/MAX Ranch and Beach in San Diego. Still, she characterizes home prices in her region as starting to firm up rather than falling as they were in 2008.

Nationwide, buyers can find plenty of good opportunities, and it's also a good climate for investors to buy homes with the aim of earning rental income.

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