Is Your Home Worth More Than 4 Years Ago?

3:32 PM, Mar 30, 2013   |    comments
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Regina Lewis, Special for USA TODAY

Is your home worth more now than it was four years ago? The new answer is: Probably.

There have been slow and steady signs of a housing recovery:

• Home prices rose more than 8% in January, posting their best annual gains since summer 2006, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index for 20 leading cities. Since bottoming in March 2012, the index has climbed back to 2003 levels.

• Existing home sales for February were the highest in more than three years, the National Association of Realtors reported. Sales were 10% above last year's level.

• And housing permits for future construction surged in February to the highest levels since June of 2008:

So, how excited should we be? Rational optimism seems warranted.

When asked about the possible return of "irrational exuberance," former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who famously coined the phrase, told CNBC that's the last thing he would call the current climate.

That's good news. He also referenced improvement in the housing market as being a key factor in turning around the economy.

Here are three things to keep in mind, so you stay level-headed as real estate rebounds:

1. National home values remain about 30% below their peak. In some places they may not reach those levels again any time soon.

2. Be measured about investing in home improvement. While your house may be an appreciating asset, if you had to sell soon, you cannot bank on getting a return on home improvements -painting, finishing a basement, etc.

3. Distressed sales are dwindling and there are an unusually low number of homes for sale - the lowest level since 1999. So, if you will need to buy after selling, think ahead. And, be mindful of the fact that, while the market may be coming back and interest rates may be low, the process of getting approved for a mortgage is tough and can make even the most rational among us ... less than exuberant.

Regina Lewis is a national television contributor and host of USA TODAY's "Money Quick Tips" videos. Follow her on Twitter: @ReginaLewis.

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