NOW is the Time to Buy a Home!!!!

Some real-estate analysts are predicting that the nascent housing recovery could accelerate more quickly than expected in 2013, jacking up prices in some areas by double digits. Would an increase like that price you out of the market?
In this installment of Buying Advice, we’ll look at the forecast for prices in the year ahead and examine how this outlook might affect your home search. We’ll also check in with the latest housing data and get some advice on the best way to evaluate a condominium’s association fees. (Bing:Homebuyer checklist)
Can you afford to wait?
The housing recovery seems almost too new to pose much of a threat to affordability. But in some areas, it’s chugging along a lot faster than in others, as demand pushes up against a dwindling supply of homes for sale.
J.P. Morgan last month revised its U.S. housing forecast upward, predicting an overall gain of 3% to 4% in home prices for 2013. In some markets, however, the pace of gains has already been dramatic enough to strain the budgets of many first-time buyers before the spring selling season even begins.
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Phoenix saw the biggest increase in year-over-year prices in October at 21.7%, according to S&P Case-Shiller data. Detroit, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Miami also posted big gains: 10%, 9.2%. 8.9% and 8.5%, respectively. With increases like that, price-sensitive buyers in these markets have cause to act quickly or risk being priced out.
Not so in many other markets: Prices in Case-Shiller’s 20-city index were up 4.3% year-over-year in October, the last month for which data are available. Chicago and New York actually posted small price dips, and Boston and Cleveland saw gains of less than 2%. In those markets, buyers have less incentive to jump off the fence quickly.
One perk that is expected to stick around and mitigate rising prices: low mortgage rates.
“I expect the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate to stay under 4% for most of the year,” says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst with “It could trend slightly higher if economic improvement continues, but could move lower if the economy falters.”
Given the increase in demand and prices, Trulia’s Housing Barometer says the real-estate market was 51% back to “normal” in November. Indeed, the almost 6% rise in existing-home sales in November seemed to back up economists’ rosy view of 2013. (More on that below.)
Of course, the wild card, J.P. Morgan analyst John Sim says, is the so-called shadow inventory of distressed homes, which CoreLogic pegs at 2.3 million units, a seven-month supply at the current sales pace. Just how quickly this huge supply of homes is sold, and what the homes sell for, will help determine how quickly home prices will rise in some large markets.
And with an eye to costs, many economists are keeping their eye on the mortgage-interest tax deduction, which many lawmakers are longing to eliminate or cap to help stop leaks in the federal budget. Changes there could raise the cost of homeownership, which could depress values in some high-cost markets.
The biggest factor shaping the housing market in 2013, however, is supply: How many sellers will be motivated to list their home, and how many builders will start new ones? If inventory increases, it will help ease the bidding wars and make it easier for buyers to land a home. 
How long can you afford to wait for the right home?
(MSN Real Estate wants to know: What was the biggest mistake you made in buying a home? Share your experience with us on Facebook or email us at and it could be used in an upcoming column.)
Housing-market snapshot
Existing-home sales rose 5.9% to 5.04 million in November from a downwardly revised 4.76 million in October. They were up 14.5% from last November, according to the National Association of Realtors.
“Momentum continues to build in the housing market from growing jobs and a bursting out of household formation,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. Low apartment-vacancy rates and rising rents are causing more people to consider buying rather than renting.
The national median home price was $180,600 in November, up 10.1% from November 2011 — the ninth consecutive month of home price increases.
Total housing inventory fell 3.8% to 2.03 million existing for-sale homes, a 4.8-month supply at the current sales pace. That supply is the lowest since September 2005, when loose credit spurred buyers to act, making for a tight housing market.
Who’s buying? Investors still make up a large part of the mix, just not quite as much as they did last year. All-cash sales accounted for 30% of transactions in November, down from 31% in October and 35% in November of last year. First-time buyers accounted for 30% of purchases.
Condo fees: How can you tell if they’re reasonable?
Most people in the market for a condominium will tell you that they’re after two things: a low list price and low homeowners association fees – those monthly dues that cover maintenance, repair and landscaping.
However, rock-bottom fees aren’t always better, experts say. Association fees that are too low could fail to cover needed repairs or upkeep, and that could mean much larger increases later should your building fall into disrepair, as Jim Adair detailed in this post for Realty Times. In that case, a Toronto condo board went to court to raise its charges to make much-needed repairs after residents refused increases for years.
The resulting $900 fees were so high that they made units hard to sell — especially given the building’s neglected condition. In Toronto, he says, maintenance fees tend to average between 50 cents and 60 cents per square foot. 
High association fees can make a building a hard sell in several ways. First, the extra expense can turn off would-be buyers. But it also can make it hard for unit owners to stay current on their payments, especially as those payments rise with inflation each year. If a significant number fall behind, repairs and maintenance will languish — or other owners will have to pony up more cash — and new buyers will find it hard to get a loan to buy a unit in the building, further depressing the building’s property value.
So how can you make a smart decision about condo fees? Do your research, says Ilona Bray, real-estate attorney and co-author of “Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home,” who shared these tips in a recent Nolo post
You not only need to look at the dollar amount for the unit you are considering, but you also should consider:
  1. How many owners are actually paying those fees? More than 15% in arrears is a serious problem.
  2. How much does the association have in its reserve account? Close to nothing is all too common and means there’s nothing to rely on if a sudden repair or emergency comes up.
  3. When can the condo association impose special assessments or other fees? What is its recent history of doing so?
  4. Are any financial disputes or lawsuits brewing between residents and the board?

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