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Economists see home prices stabilizing

ULI survey: Nation poised for economic growth -- and inflation

Home prices should stabilize this year and rebound next year, with appreciation accelerating in 2014, according to a survey of 38 real estate economists and analysts by the Urban Land Institute.

The ULI Real Estate Consensus Forecast, conducted by the ULI Center for Capital Markets and Real Estate, suggests that the nation is primed for economic growth — and inflation, which could push up mortgage rates. 

Economists polled by ULI in late February and early March expect a national home price index maintained by the Federal Housing Finance Agency will show no change this year, but gain 2 percent in 2013 and 3.5 percent in 2014.

They also expect single-family housing starts, which have been at or near record lows for three years, to rise from 428,600 in 2011 to 500,000 this year, 660,000 in 2013, and 800,000 in 2014.

Those projections are based on expectations that the economic recovery will remain on track, with unemployment falling to 8 percent by the end of 2012, 7.5 percent by the end of 2013, and 6.9 percent by the end of 2014. For that to happen, employment would have to increase by 2 million jobs in 2012, 2.5 million in 2013, and 2.75 million in 2014.

Economists participating in the survey expect real gross domestic product (GDP) to rise steadily from 2.5 percent this year, to 3 percent in 2013, and 3.2 percent by 2014.

Growth like that could lead to higher inflation and interest rates. The survey showed economists expect inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), will average 2.4 percent in 2012, 2.8 percent in 2013 and 3.0 percent in 2014.

Rates on 10-year Treasurys are also expected to rise, from an average of 2.4 percent this year to 3.1 percent next year and 3.8 percent for 2014.

Because mortgage-backed securities that fund most mortgage loans often rise and fall with 10-year Treasury yields, the forecast implies that mortgage rates could rise 140 basis points, or 1.4 percentage points, in the next two years.

With rates on 30-year fixed-rate loans hovering above 4 percent in recent weeks, that would take rates on "plain vanilla" mortgages well above 5 percent.

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