Hopes of a housing recovery in the second half of 2011 were dashed when low consumer confidence, high unemployment and the debt crisis debacle were exacerbated by Standard & Poor's downgrade of the United States' credit rating. In August, S&P demoted the U.S., Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae (two government-sponsored mortgage entities) from AAA ratings to AA+. The first-ever downgrade of the U.S. was expected to cause interest rates to rise. Instead, it had the opposite effect. Low interest rates have set off a new surge in refinance applications, but it has done little to help most homebuyers who can't qualify under current strict lender requirements. Nationally, home prices declined approximately 5 percent between March 2010 and March 2011, according to Fiserv, a company that provides data analysis for the financial services industry. Fiserv expects home prices to decline another 3.1 percent by March 2012 and possibly increase 2.7 percent nationally in the first quarter...
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