Shifting Winds, Shifting Choices

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sales are up, sales are down. Prices are up, prices are down.

It can be tough to figure out which direction the real estate market is going, especially if you are trying to make decisions about whether to buy or sell a home.

For the first half of this decade, the picture appeared clear: Home prices were headed up, up, up. Families struggled to scrape together enough money to afford a house. Still, the real estate market, with all the jobs and spending it spins off, was the healthiest part of the U.S. economy.

In 2006, however, the market faltered. Sales stalled and prices lagged, while defaults and foreclosures rose. Big-picture analysts speculated about whether real estate would drag down the rest of the economy. And individual home buyers and sellers speculated about the choices that faced them.

With the market's direction still uncertain, what do you need to know to make choices now and in the months to come? Inside this section, we take a closer look.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company