Friday Five: As Market Heats Up, First-Time Buyers Have to Act Fast

Optimism grows around home ownership, though some first-timers struggle to compete in the housing market. Plus, two senators put forth a bill to encourage more refis.

A new bill offers important baby steps toward helping underwater home owners refinance their mortgages, first-time buyers compete for purchases as markets heat up, Americans are optimistic about housing, and housing starts to tick up. This and more in our Friday Five housing news roundup.

HouseLogic: Refinancing Underwater Mortgages a Baby Step at a Time

In an effort to address the problems affecting 31.4% of Americans who have an underwater mortgage, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) have introduced The Responsible Home Owner Refinancing Act (S. 3085). The bill would eliminate some restrictions on Fannie and Freddie guidelines that have impeded home owners who are current but underwater on their mortgages from refinancing into a lower rate.

Bloomberg Business Week: Housing Starts in U.S. Probably Climbed in May on Lower Rates

Builders in the U.S. broke ground on more homes in May as the real estate market showed signs of sustaining recent gains. The combination of lower prices and record-low mortgage rates is underpinning demand and encouraging some builders to take on new projects. At the same time, competition from cheaper, previously owned properties and stricter lending rules remain hurdles for an industry that’s been the weakest link for the economic expansion.

USA Today: Housing Isn’t a Buyer’s Market for Many First-Timers

As the nation’s housing market shows signs of bottoming after years of declining prices, many first-time buyers are getting a rude awakening. Instead of having their pick of homes to buy in some markets, they’re losing houses to cash buyers and bidders with bigger down payments, or they’re facing bidding wars spurred by shrinking numbers of homes for sale. Still, low interest rates are luring more buyers, as are home prices that are down 35% from their 2006 peak. One buyer decided to buy after discovering it would cost less than renting.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Poll: Americans’ Optimism Grows about Home Ownership, Prices

Despite the drubbing home values have taken, a new poll shows a large majority of Americans say owning a house is still important. A year ago, 28% of those polled for the online real estate firm Trulia said they never wanted to own a home. That dropped to 22% this year, leaving three out of every four Americans saying home ownership is an important part of successful living.

The Street: How to Sell Your Home to Foreign Buyer

Having trouble selling your home? Maybe you should cast a wider net and go after foreign buyers. Foreigners are among the most eager buyers of residential real estate in the U.S., drawn by low prices and the weakness of the dollar, according to research by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. About 62% of foreign buyers pay cash, making them especially appealing at a time many U.S. shoppers are having trouble getting loans.