What's your home worth?

Nationally, the supply of homes for sale stands at five months' worth. (Months' supply is a measurement of how long it would take to sell everything at the current pace of sales. A market balanced between buyers and sellers has about six months' supply of homes.) The current level slightly favors sellers, but in many cities inventory is much tighter. For example, the Washington, D.C., suburbs of Montgomery County, Md., and Northern Virginia had about two months' supply in September. Yun says the housing market has moved toward a shortage that will persist through 2014.

Why is inventory low?
In some cities, institutional investors have been scooping up properties to rent out. Plus, builders cut way back on new-home construction during the bust, and homeowners who bought at the top of the market are still reluctant to sell until they can recoup more of their investment. Some are still underwater, unable to pay off their mortgage with what they'd get for their home.

In Oakland County, Mich., in suburban Detroit, agent Melanie Bishop says home prices fell so far during the economic downturn that even longtime homeowners reaped little or no profit when they sold. But with the housing market's rebound, sellers' prospects have improved. She recently helped Corey and Suzy MacDonald sell the four-bedroom, 2.5-bath home in West Bloomfield that they bought in late 2006 for $272,000.

In the spring of 2012, Corey MacDonald became self-employed, and the couple decided to relocate to Florida. They listed their home for sale at $265,000, just enough to pay off their mortgage and expenses. The best offer they received was $245,000, so they decided to postpone their move and try again later. Last summer, they listed the home for sale at $289,900. On the first day, they received an offer of $310,000. "It was a perfect deal," MacDonald says. He ultimately took a job in Atlanta, and the couple used the proceeds from their Michigan sale to put down 20 percent on their next home.

The influence of investors will wane as the low-hanging fruit (including foreclosures) disappears in 2014. Once, whole cities were ripe for the picking — such as Cape Coral, Fla., and Phoenix in 2012, as well as Las Vegas and Atlanta in 2013 — but investors must now dig deeper at the neighborhood level, says Villacorta. That's a job probably best suited to smaller numbers of local investors who know their markets best.

Where will new supply come from?
Most people who list their homes for sale expect to buy another one, so it's a wash in terms of net inventory. According to the National Association of Home Builders, whose members retrenched during the bust, just less than half as many homes were started this year as in a normal market. NAHB forecasts that a normal pace of housing starts won't resume until late 2015. Tight credit, land and labor, as well as rising costs for materials, are constraining builders.

Distressed properties are still adding to the supply of homes nationally, but foreclosure filings are falling. Fewer homeowners are losing their homes as the economy improves, home prices (and home equity) rise, and lenders agree to more short sales (homes sold for less than their owners owe on their mortgages).

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"We're in the home stretch of getting through the foreclosure crisis," says Daren Blomquist, vice-president at RealtyTrac, which monitors the foreclosure market. "But we won't cross the finish line, with filings back to pre-crisis level, until early 2015."