So many buyers, so little inventory.

It’s a tale Rick Martin knows well. Martin, a Realtor/broker for Whalers Realty in Lahaina on the island of Maui, said some home prices in his area are 40 percent higher than they were at the same time last year.

“We see very little inventory and many, many buyers wishing to purchase homes and condos on Maui. With so few sellers and so many want-to-be buyers, I don’t see an end in sight anytime soon,” he said.

While Martin doesn’t view the phenomenon as a short-lived market spike or bubble that is bound to burst, some real estate brokers in other regions have a different outlook. The “bubble” concept, it seems, is not so transparent.

Marie Scott, a Realtor in San Bernardino, Calif., saw a bubble form in her area when interest rates came down and property costs rapidly inflated.

“The first buyer willing to pay too much for a property begins the cycle,” Scott said. “I pray it ends soon or at least becomes sensible. We have literally out-priced our buyers. How are we helping people obtain their dream? Creative financing can be wonderful, and yet scary at the same time. No one wants a repeat of the ’90s.”

In Massachusetts, signs surfaced last year that the real estate bubble there is deflating, said Bill Wendel of The Real Estate Cafe in Cambridge, Mass.

“The end of last summer saw the highest level of expired listings in five years, and there were 12,000 expired and canceled listings during the last three months of 2003. And this, despite the lowest interest rates in 45 years. The inevitable return to higher interest rates could bring much heartbreak and hardship in the Bay State, as it did in the last down-cycle,” he said.

Carmelle Anaya of Branifer Financial in Chico, Calif., said a regional bubble begin about four years ago, when the local area ran out of buildable land.

“The demand has increased over the available supply. (The bubble) will end because we are a small community with mainly minimum-wage jobs, and the average home here is $350,000, unaffordable for many people,” she said.

Roberta Perone of SunTrust Mortgage believes the growth in the housing market will likely continue for a long time in the Phoenix, Ariz., area.

“In our area of the country, we are building new homes and it has not stopped. The bubble theory is someone’s way of saying the interest rates cannot last for long,” she said.

“With the way the economy is, it will be a long time before they stop building new homes, and consumers will continue to take advantage of the low interest rates,” she added.

In neighboring Nevada, Dan Robson Jr. of Robson Appraisal Ltd. sees a continuing boom in the real estate market. A rise in land and home costs was sparked last year when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management auctioned off some land that brought a record price per acre, Robson said.

“That seemed to be the wake up call that there is a shortage of land in Las Vegas. Since then, land price and home prices (especially new-home prices) took off,” he said.

“There have been many people buying for investment, which intensified the trend and resulted in a lot of properties available for rent. But the fact remains that supply and demand is definitely out of balance and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight,” Robson added.

The story is similar for Rudy Herrera, senior loan officer for Metrociti Mortgage in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

“We have no inventory and it has been like this since the middle of 2000, when rates were (higher). There is not enough building to keep up, and more people keep coming from outside California to make this their home. Our job diversity, immigration, first-time buyers, influx of newcomers and relative low-interest rates in the next couple of years should keep the market strong,” he said.

Lenore Wilkas, a Coldwell Banker Realtor in Burlingame, Calif., said her area is also affected by a dwindling inventory.

“No bubble can offset this shortage. Prices go up when scarcity exists, even when interest rates increase. We are in an area that people want to settle in,” she said.

Listen to Wilkas’ take on the housing market:

Michael Smith, a San Jose, Calif., homeowner and a former real estate agent in Cupertino, Calif., doesn’t believe the bubble hype.

He said he has heard the “fear mongers that run around like Chicken Little screaming, ‘Real estate prices are going to crash.’

“They’ve been saying that around these parts for 40-plus years. Remember, demand for housing in the Bay Area, and California in general, has always been greater than the available supply.”

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