Few buyers, not enough sellers

WASHINGTON- Entering the 2014 spring buying season, the U.S. housing market faces an unusual dilemma: Too few people are selling homes. Yet too few buyers can afford the homes that are for sale.

“Both sides of the equation are in a funk,” said Glenn Kelman, CEO of the real estate brokerage Redfin.

A 13.4 percent jump in the average price of a home sold last year, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city index, hasn’t managed to coax more homeowners to sell. And combined with higher mortgage rates, higher prices have made homes costlier for first-time buyers as well as for all-cash investors.

Average prices nationally are expected to rise by single digits this year. The gains could be strongest in areas with solid job growth, such as Seattle and Austin, Texas. And while construction will put more homes on the market, lack of affordability could keep sales flat to falling.

On the other hand, many lenders are easing the barriers for those with less-than-sterling credit. For these people, qualifying for a mortgage could become a little easier.

All of which leaves real estate, much like the rest of the economy, still trudging back to health nearly a half-decade after the recession ended. After last year’s growth spurt, the housing recovery may have begun an awkward adolescence, one prone to fits and starts that can defy predictions.