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Sales of existing homes up nationally in April

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Americans bought more previously owned homes in April, a hopeful sign that the weak housing market is gradually improving.

The National Association of Realtors says home sales rose 3.4 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million.

That brings home sales back near the pace in January and February — which was the best winter for sales in five years. Still, sales are well below the nearly 6 million per year that economists equate with healthy markets.

A mild winter encouraged some people to buy homes earlier. That drove up sales in January and February, while making March weaker.

The median price for homes sold in April rose to $177,400, up 10.1 percent from a year ago.

In the 13-county central Indiana area, home sales were up 18 percent in April, according to the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors. Median sale prices rose almost 7 percent, to $131,000.

Modest increases in home sales are the latest sign that the market could be starting to turn around nearly five years after the housing bubble burst.

The sales pace in January was the highest since May 2010 — when a popular home-buying tax credit expired. Builders are more confident and are starting to build more homes. Mortgage rates have never been cheaper. And the job market is improving, which has made more people open to buying a home.

Employers have added 1 million jobs in the past five months. And unemployment has dropped a full percentage point since August, from 9.1 percent to 8.1 percent in April.

Still, many would-be buyers are having difficulty qualifying for home loans or can't afford the larger down payments being required by banks.

Even some would-be home buyers are holding off because they fear that home prices could keep falling.

Previously occupied homes represent 80 percent of the overall home market.

Builders have grown more confident since last fall, in part because more people have expressed an interest in buying a home. In May, builder optimism rose to the highest level in five years, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index.

Last week, the Commerce Department reported that builders started work on more homes and apartments in April, pushing housing construction to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 717,000 homes. That was near a rate of 720,000 homes and apartments being built in January, which had been a three-year high. But even with the recent strength, housing construction remains at roughly half the pace that economists consider a healthy market.

In the nine-county central Indiana area, the number of permits filed to build single-family homes dropped 2 percent in April compared to the same month of 2011. However, permits are up 8 percent in the first four months of the year compared to a year ago.

Many economists believe that 2012 could be the year that housing finally makes a positive contribution to overall economic growth. That hasn't happened since 2005, shortly before the housing boom went bust.

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  1. You are correct that Obamacare requires health insurance policies to include richer benefits and protects patients who get sick. That's what I was getting at when I wrote above, "That’s because Obamacare required insurers to take all customers, regardless of their health status, and also established a floor on how skimpy the benefits paid for by health plans could be." I think it's vital to know exactly how much the essential health benefits are costing over previous policies. Unless we know the cost of the law, we can't do a cost-benefit analysis. Taxes were raised in order to offset a 31% rise in health insurance premiums, an increase that paid for richer benefits. Are those richer benefits worth that much or not? That's the question we need to answer. This study at least gets us started on doing so.

  2. *5 employees per floor. Either way its ridiculous.

  3. Jim, thanks for always ready my stuff and providing thoughtful comments. I am sure that someone more familiar with research design and methods could take issue with Kowalski's study. I thought it was of considerable value, however, because so far we have been crediting Obamacare for all the gains in coverage and all price increases, neither of which is entirely fair. This is at least a rigorous attempt to sort things out. Maybe a quixotic attempt, but it's one of the first ones I've seen try to do it in a sophisticated way.

  4. In addition to rewriting history, the paper (or at least your summary of it) ignores that Obamacare policies now must provide "essential health benefits". Maybe Mr Wall has always been insured in a group plan but even group plans had holes you could drive a truck through, like the Colts defensive line last night. Individual plans were even worse. So, when you come up with a study that factors that in, let me know, otherwise the numbers are garbage.

  5. You guys are absolutely right: Cummins should build a massive 80-story high rise, and give each employee 5 floors. Or, I suppose they could always rent out the top floors if they wanted, since downtown office space is bursting at the seams (http://www.ibj.com/article?articleId=49481).

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