Home prices are still on the rise and don’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon. But hopeful borrowers shouldn’t throw in the towel just yet.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index shows that the price of homes increased 6.2 percent annually in January, down slightly from 6.3 percent in December.

The reason why remains the same: A low inventory of homes is driving up the price tag. And even as Americans’ confidence in the economy continues to improve, recent data makes it appear as if attitudes toward home buying are worsening.

About 68 percent of consumers say now is a good time to buy a home, down from 72 percent just last quarter, according to the National Association of Realtors. Meanwhile, 55 percent of renters say now is a good time to buy a home, down from 60 percent just three months ago. Homeowners and people living in the more affordable Midwest and southern housing markets were more positive in their outlook.

“The critical shortage of listings in most markets continues to spark a hike in home prices that is not easy for many buyers — and especially first-time buyers — to overcome,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Many house hunters are telling Realtors that they are dispirited by the stiff competition for the short number of listings they can afford.”

That doesn’t bode well for the spring buying season. Traditionally, the housing market heats up in spring as warmer weather and longer days motivate consumers to begin surveying housing options. But experts worry that the affordability crisis already pinching consumers will squeeze even tighter, and that competition in the housing market will intensify this season.

That’s because prospective homebuyers whose dreams of purchasing a home were sidelined because of the housing shortage are ready to re-enter the market at the same time scores of borrowers are poised to begin their home search for the first time.

What happens when intense competition meets low inventory? Even higher prices. It simply comes down to supply and demand. With an influx of new players in the market, housing demand will increase. Because there’s a shortage of supply, prices will go up.

All is not lost

There is good news.

More homeowners say now is a good time to sell. The share of homeowners who feel now is the right time to sell their homes increased to 74 percent, from 71 percent, last quarter, according to the NAR.

They’re right. The market right now is primed for savvy sellers looking to downsize, upsize or try other housing options. They can get a lot of bang for their buck from eager buyers willing to make high (and even cash) offers. And in a market where the inventory of starter homes is shrinking — it’s fallen 48 percent over the last six years, according to Trulia — sellers willing to put their homes up for sale might be the remedy house hunters are looking for.

The outlook is positive

Tell your borrowers the situation isn’t hopeless. Rates, although on a slow rise, are still historically low — so low that buying a home now is more affordable than it was 20 years ago.

There’s more. Pending home sales rebounded in much of the country last month, rising for the first time in three months. Contract signings increased 3.1 percent to 107.5 in February, up from 104.3 in January, the NAR reports. Mortgage applications surged, increasing 4.8 percent over the last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

And the economy continues to expand. Gross domestic product grew by 2.9 percent annually in the final three months of 2017, up from the 2.5 percent originally reported, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That means the economy, undergirded by an uptick in consumer spending, is accelerating faster than economists believed.

Homeownership and economic growth have a cause-and-effect relationship. When the economy is performing well — and consumer spending is increasing — buyers feel better about their capacity to purchase a home. Homeownership is still a better long-term investment than renting, and homebuyers are still in a better position to generate wealth that will last for years.

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About the Author:

Greg Richardson - EVP of Capital Markets

Greg Richardson is Movement's EVP of Capital Markets and a contributing author to the Movement Blog. His weekly market update is a must-read commentary on financial markets, the mortgage industry and interest rates. Greg is an industry veteran who knows how to read the financial tea leaves and make complex industry data easy for loan officers, real estate agents and homebuyers to understand.