In stark contrast to this time last year, the housing market is chugging into 2013 with a head of steam.
Home-listing prices were up 5.1% nationally in December on a year-over-year basis, according to data released Thursday by real-estate listings and data company Trulia. Out of the 100 major metro markets covered by the report, 82 of them saw year-over-year gains. At the end of 2011, asking prices had fallen 4.3%, and only 12 markets had posted positive price changes.
“Prices are going into 2013 with strong tailwinds,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist for Trulia. He cites a general strengthening of the job market, which in turn means more families able to cover a sizeable down payment. An increase in household formation, which is also the product of improving job prospects, and home construction could further bolster demand.
Mr. Kolko notes that the sharpest tightening of inventory is taking place in Western states. Four of the top 10 cities to see the largest asking price recovery were in California, including Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento and Fresno.
Las Vegas, which was hit hard after the bubble burst, came in at the top of the list with a 16.3% year-over-year listing price increase. In the same period in 2011, prices dropped 11.2%.
To be sure, even among the markets with major gains, some are better positioned for a sustained housing recovery than others.
While Las Vegas may have seen the largest asking price turnaround, it remains far below pre-bust levels. The problem, Mr. Kolko says, is that the market remains unstable, with high vacancy rates, lingering foreclosures and subpar job growth.
On the other hand, metros like Seattle, which came in second on the list of cities with the highest asking-price recovery, are on a smoother path to growth because of their strong economic fundamentals, he said.
Meanwhile, rents rose nationally 5.2% in the same period. In 17 of the 25 biggest rental markets, home prices are rising faster than rents, according to Trulia. Whereas ownership was typically more affordable than renting in most markets in recent years, as sales demand rises, that edge is becoming less apparent, Mr. Kolko said.