As far back as 2006, when the home sale market was peaking, buyers trying to buy a home in hot markets complained that there wasn’t enough inventory to satisfy the demand. After the bubble burst and home sales and prices sagged, buyers in some areas still complained that there wasn’t enough of the right kind of inventory on the market.

In 2009, solidly in the midst of the recent housing recession, a couple who owned a home in the hills above Oakland, Calif., for 15 years decided to make a move to accommodate their expanding family. They needed more space, wanted a view and needed a floor plan that included au pair quarters.

Although it was a buyer’s market, good listings that fit their wish list didn’t come up often. It took over a year to buy a home during which time they lost out in multiple-offer competitions on two listings that would have worked.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: The Oakland buyers made their winning offer on a holiday weekend, which gave them an advantage because a lot of agents and prospective buyers were out of town.

Although low-inventory markets are not unusual, the low-inventory market of 2012 is good news in some areas and extremely bad news for buyers in other areas. In June, the inventory of homes for sale nationally was 24.4 percent lower than it was a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). But, in some areas, like parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, the number of homes for sale has plummeted nearly 50 percent from a year ago.

Today’s housing market is low on listings suitable for first-time buyers. Typically, first-time buyers make up approximately 40 percent of home sales. According to NAR, 32 percent of homebuyers in June were first-time buyers.

If owners of starter homes bought at the peak of the market with small cash down payments, their homes may not be salable at a price that covers the balance on their mortgage and closing costs. They may be house-bound until home prices go up enough to make it possible for them to sell and trade up.

Another factor holding first-timers back are excessively restrictive credit requirements making it difficult for many to qualify for a mortgage.

Some economists believe that we are actually seeing home price appreciation now. In that case, prospective homebuyers can expect more of the same: not enough buying opportunities for the buyers who want to take advantage of today’s record low interest rates.

Some homeowners who were thinking about selling this year because they didn’t want to continue to wait for a better market could switch gears when the news of an improved housing market sinks in. If the market is improving, why not wait until next year to sell?

Other sellers might have the same idea. If so, this might tip the scales. There would be more listings, which is good news for buyers. But, it could reduce the number of multiple offers and selling prices over the list price that some of today’s home sellers are receiving.

Lenders are still holding back on bringing foreclosed properties on the market. Alternatives to foreclosure are being pursued by some lenders. A concern is that if the market becomes flooded with inventory again, the housing market will slow down and prices will fall.

Economists aren’t in agreement on where the housing market will go from here. Some think it will be rocky; others think the recovery is under way. NAR recently reported that the national median existing-home price increased 9.5 percent between August 2011 and August 2012. It was the six consecutive month that the monthly price increases exceeded prices from the year before.

THE CLOSING: The last time this occurred was December 2005 to May 2006.

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