Friday Five: A Reassuring Look at the Housing Market

Well-priced listings, short sales move faster; Congress urged to move renewal of flood insurance program.

As home inventories shrink in some markets and new-home sales exceed projections for the month of March, some buyers are taking advantage of what seems to be a light at the end of the housing crisis tunnel. Lower mortgage rates and new rules for short sales are just some of the developments helping to turn around the market. These stories and more in our weekly housing news round-up.

The Seattle Times: Housing Market No Longer Yours for a Steal

In local markets where inventories are tight and competition for homes rising, realty agents say that buyers looking to steal houses by lowballing their offers are ending up at the back of the line — their contracts either rejected out of hand or countered close to the original asking price. It’s not something that economists routinely track, but it provides a rough sense of what’s happening in local real estate markets. Call it the lowball index.

Bloomberg Business Week: Sales of New U.S. Homes Exceeded Estimates in March: Economy

Demand for new U.S. homes was stronger than projected in March, showing more jobs and cheaper borrowing costs are helping stabilize the market.

Washington Post: Housing Downturn Spurs a Boom in Foreclosure-to-Rental Conversions

With home prices at historic lows and rental rates on the rise, a growing number of investors with cash to spare are seeking lucrative returns by gobbling up foreclosures in distressed markets across the country and turning them into rentals. “The investors are seeing bargain opportunities,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

The Hill: FEMA Warns Congress Clock is Ticking on Flood insurance Program

The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday stepped up pressure on Congress to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program. The program is set to expire at the end of May, and FEMA warned that after that time NFIP won’t be able to issue new policies. The program is seen as key for limiting the costs of natural disasters. The House and Senate were unable to agree on a NFIP reauthorization last year, and extended the program without changes until May 31.

HouseLogic: It’s Time to Make Short Sales Shorter

New Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rules plus two bipartisan bills aim to hasten the bureaucratic and drawn-out short-sale process to prevent more home owners from slipping into foreclosure.