(02/19/13) - It's always been part of the American dream. But for many, the dream of home ownership started slipping away when the real estate bubble began to burst in 2005.
Now, some real estate experts say the dream is alive once again.
Realtors believe the numbers don't lie - and they point to 2012.
Bay County agents sold nearly 3 percent more houses last year compared to 2011. That's 37 more homes.
In Genesee County, 591 additional homes got new owners, an increase of 10 percent.
In Midland County, realtors saw a 11 percent rise, or 100 homes.
In Saginaw County, there was a 2 percent jump, with 39 more houses sold than the year before.
If Stephanie Finn could write a book about home ownership, her family's story would have a fairy tale ending.
"We were renting. We lived in a small subdivision, and now we have all this acreage, and it's awesome just to be able to call something your home," she said.
Tired of paying someone else's mortgage, more than a year ago, Stephanie decided it was time for the next chapter in her life.
"I didn't really think it was something for me, being a single parent, I was just like, 'Well I don't think that that's really something I can swing right now,'" she said.
That's a concern for many people, after watching the housing collapse during the Great Recession.
The president of the Saginaw Board of Realtors, Dave Wieland, says fears are easing.
"We're actually increasing our business. We are seeing an influx in calls," he said. "This mild winter that we've had has definitely helped us out. It's a lot more showings." Wieland is also an associate broker with RE/MAX New Image.
Joe Gracia, senior loan officer at Glacier Financial, noticed the market heating up last summer.
"It was so busy. I know that a lot of my contacts, my agents and stuff that I work with, they were a little nervous," he said.
They were nervous it was too good to be true. But right now, Saginaw County is doing better than last year, with a 12 percent rise in home sales in January.
So what's behind the slow and steady rebound?
"Interest rates, they are, never been lower. First time buyers can get in on an FHA mortgage at 3.5 percent," Wieland said.
That was a figure Finn couldn't ignore, in her quest to find 'home sweet home'.
"With everything rolled into my mortgage, I save almost $250 a month," she said.
That's money in her pocket, and many others.
"Once you start seeing home sales rise, you know the economy is starting to come back," Wieland said.
Wieland believes stronger home sales means increased consumer confidence. If people are willing to spend their money on big purchases, they're more likely to spend money elsewhere as well.
"I think the real estate market corrected itself for a very long time," Wieland said.
But Wieland and Gracia caution home ownership isn't for everyone.
While lending guidelines have eased up a bit, lenders aren't taking on risky loans like they did before the collapse. Buyers now are also more educated about the process - after watching their family and friends struggle during the housing crash.
The message from realtors, lenders and homeowners - read between the lines, and crunch the numbers.
"It was unreal when I got the final paperwork and l looked at it and I was like, 'This is just unreal. Something that could be mine is this cheap,'" Finn said.
Home sales aren't the only bright spot in the real estate market. New home construction is also improving.
You'll see what it's like for builders when you join us Thursday night at 6.
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