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Home prices increase by most in 7 years

U.S. home prices jumped 12.1 percent in April from a year ago, the most since March 2006. More buyers and a limited supply of available homes have lifted prices in most cities across the country, a sign of a broad-based housing recovery.

“The increase in the number of people looking for a new home often runs parallel to a jump in home prices,” said Doug Fulton, CEO of Fulton Homes. “We are seeing steady growth in all of our communities, so it was no surprise to see the data from this new report. It’s great that more people are buying new homes, but it’s even more encouraging that more people are visiting our communities and showing serious interest in our homes.”

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index released Tuesday also rose 2.5 percent in April from March, the biggest month-over-month gain on records dating back to 2000.

All cities except Detroit posted gains in April from March. That’s up from only 15 cities in the previous month.

Prices rose from a year earlier in all 20 cities for the fourth straight month. Twelve cities posted double-digit gains. San Francisco, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Atlanta all had price increases over the past year of more than 20 percent, while Detroit and Los Angeles showed gains of nearly that much. Minneapolis posted a 15 percent gain.

The housing recovery is looking more sustainable and should continue to boost economic growth this year, offsetting some of the drag from higher taxes and federal spending cuts. Steady job gains and low mortgage rates have encouraged more people to buy homes.

David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee, said the housing recovery should continue even with mortgage rates rising. Borrowing rates have jumped after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said last week that the Fed could slow its bond-purchase program, which is intended to keep long-term interest rates low.

“Home buyers have survived rising mortgage rates in the past,” Blitzer said, “often by shifting from fixed rate to adjustable rate loans.”

Blitzer said the bigger issue for the housing market is banks’ willingness to lend. A recent survey by the Fed suggested some banks are easing credit standards.

Still, Stan Humphries, chief economist at real estate data provider Zillow, said rising rates and an increase in the number of sellers should temper price gains in the coming months.

“The national housing recovery is strong and sustainable, but pockets of volatility will emerge,” he said. “Buyers expecting home values to continue rising at this pace indefinitely may be in for a shock.”

The index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The April figures are the latest available.

Prices are rising because demand is up and fewer homes are available for sale. That’s made builders more optimistic about their prospects, leading to more construction and jobs.

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Ashton Woods Tops List of Most Trusted Builders in America

Trust is the new currency by which customers evaluate the merits of new-home builders, according to ground-breaking national research of more than 21,500 new- home shoppers in the Lifestory Research Most Trusted Builders in America Study SM.

The study finds that three-fourths of customers (76 percent) report that trust is a critical criterion by which they evaluate the merits of a home builder before making a purchase decision, placing significant emphasis on the perceived trustworthiness of home builder brands. “Home builders need to begin to ask themselves how consumers see their brand in regards to trust if they wish to effectively compete in the current marketplace,” said Lifestory Research President and CEO Eric Snider. “We find that the trust held by a customer toward a home builder is playing a central role among home shoppers as they seek to reduce uncertainty in the high-risk decision of purchasing a new home.”

The Lifestory Research Most Trusted Builders in America Study tracks 133 home builder brands in the top 27 housing markets in the United States.  However, for purposes of examining builders at the national level for this release, a builder brand was included if a builder was in the top 30 builders in the United States and was selling homes in at least three markets.  Based on this, the following brands were included in the national study of the Most Trusted Builders in America: Ashton Woods, Beazer, Centex, DR Horton, David Weekley, Del Webb, Drees, Gehan, Highland (TX), KB Home, KHovnanian, Lennar, M/I, Meritage, Perry, Pulte, Richmond American, Ryan, Ryland, Shea, Standard Pacific, Taylor Morrison, Toll Brothers, Trilogy by Shea Homes, and Woodside.

The Most Trusted Builder in America was Ashton Woods, the nation’s 25th largest builder selling homes in Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Phoenix, Raleigh, San Antonio and Tampa.  Ashton Woods produced a Net Trust Quotient Score of 111, followed in order by David Weekley Homes (108.5), Trilogy by Shea Homes (106.9), Perry Homes (106.8), Drees Homes (106.8), Meritage Homes (104.2), Highland Homes of Texas (104.2), Taylor Morrison Homes (101.6), M/I Homes (100.8), and Woodside Homes (100.8). Trilogy by Shea Homes also was recognized as the Most Trusted Active Adult Builder in America.

In a shift away from product usage and satisfaction research, Lifestory Research’s investigation focuses on how brands influence the purchase behavior of home shoppers. “We have seen a fundamental shift in consumer psychology that has occurred in response to the massive social revolution that has taken place over the last several years,” Snider said.  “Consumers are referencing customer advocacy organizations less for product information; instead, people are turning to their peers, friends, and digital social networks to garner opinions.  Moreover, in the process of shopping for a home, consumers rely upon their direct experience they have with the multitude of builder brands in a given marketplace.  As a result, we have seen brands rise in importance in the consumer purchase process.”

The study, in its first year, evaluates attitudes from thousands of consumers who are actively in the process of shopping for a new home in one of the top 27 housing markets in the United States.  Trust is measured through the Lifestory Research Net Trust Quotient Score.  This score is based on the fundamental perspective that every organization’s customer can be divided into three categories: “advocates” are customers who feel a significant trust toward a given brand; “neutrals” are customers who trust a specific brand, but they do not see a specific brand as standing on the shoulders of other brands in regards to trust; and “antagonists” are skeptics who have little, if any, trust in a specific brand.

The most effective way to gauge the trust of a brand is to take the percentage of customers who are trust advocates and subtract the percentage of people who are dis-trusters.  Scores are standardized (using z scores and t scores) with 100 being equal to the overall average.  Scores can array above and below the 100 point average.  Each Net Trust Quotient Score represents the net value of a brand on trust.  A brand with a high positive score is an indication that the brand is trusted by a large portion of the target market.  Conversely, a low score is an indication that the brand is not trusted by the consumer marketplace.

To qualify to participate in the study, participants must have met all of the following criteria:  Household located in the metro area of one of the 27 markets in the study (see link for list of markets), a household income in excess of $50,000, between the ages of 25 and 69, actively shopping for a home during the last 90 days, and with intentions of owning their next home (versus renting).

Detailed information about the study can be found at www.lifestoryresearch.com/builderrankings.