Some of the nation's hardest-hit housing markets are beginning to turn around, with Florida leading the trend.
BOSTON (MainStreet) -- Some of the nation's hardest-hit housing markets are beginning to turn around as lower unemployment, a stabilizing foreclosure market and lots of bargain hunters help things rebound.
"We continue to see signs of stabilization and recovery on the local level throughout the country," says Steve Berkowitz of Move Inc.(:MOVE), publisher of the National Association of Realtors' official Realtor.com property-listing site. "By all indications, the 2012 housing market is unfolding as we expected, and we're encouraged with the progress local markets are making."
Berkowitz says several markets around the country are firming as consumers get jobs, foreclosure rates drop and a combination of househunters and real estate investors move in.
He says February's $25 billion settlement between regulators and the nation's five largest banks over housing-boom excesses should also clarify how many U.S. homes will ultimately hit the foreclosure market.
"People who are looking to buy homes -- especially first-time homebuyers -- want to see stability in the marketplace," Berkowitz says. "Knowing what a market's foreclosure inventory will be adds to that 'flavor' of stability."
Here's a look at Realtor.com's top five "Turnaround Cities" for homebuyers.
The markets below all saw rising asking prices, shorter days on the market and declining inventories of unsold homes over the past year on Realtor.com. Local jobless rates are as of March, while all other figures are for the first quarter as a whole.
Fifth-best turnaround market: Naples, Fla.
Median list price: $342,900
This South Florida resort community on the Gulf of Mexico saw median list prices rise 14.3% over the past year on Realtor.com, to $342,900.
The number of unsold listings dropped 34.1%, to about 7,700, while median time on market for unsold homes fell 23.5%, to 114 days.
The local jobless rate has also fallen to 7.8% from 10.2% a year earlier.
"Naples is a strong local market," Berkowitz says. "It's a great place to live, it's got a huge tourism business and positive employment gains."
Realtor.com's Naples-area listings range in price from $14,500 for a one-bedroom foreclosure to a $19.9 million six-bedroom estate.
Fourth-best turnaround market: Boise, Idaho
Median list price: $149,900
Idaho's capital saw median asking prices on Realtor.com increase 17.5% over the past year, to $149,900, while the number of unsold listings tumbled 36.9%, to about 2,600.
Median time on the market also dropped 23.6%, to 68 days, while the local unemployment rate fell to 8.2% from 10.1% in the same period last year.
Boise has a diversified employment base, with semiconductor firm Micron Technology(:MU), privately held forestry-products maker Boise Cascade and Boise State University all calling the city home.
Berkowitz says improved jobs numbers and a fairly low foreclosure rate are helping the 616,000-population metro area's housing market.
"There's also a good family atmosphere that attracts jobs, which in turn attracts homebuyers," he says.
If you're looking to buy a piece of your own private Idaho, Realtor.com's Boise-area listings start at $19,900 for a one-bedroom short-sale home and run to $3 million for a four-bedroom downtown penthouse condo.
Third-best turnaround market: Orlando, Fla.
Median list price: $145,000
Disney World's hometown was hard hit by Florida's real estate collapse and foreclosure crisis, but conditions appear to be stabilizing.
The number of unsold Orlando properties listed on Realtor.com tumbled 41.6% over the past year to 10,624 units, while median asking prices rose 11.5%, to $145,000. Time on market also fell 38.5%, to 64 days, while the local jobless rate has dropped to 8.6% from 10.4% a year earlier.
"Orlando was an area that was quite distressed, but now it's a place where people see tremendous value," Berkowitz says.
Still, problems remain.
The area saw 9,330 foreclosure filings during the first quarter -- a 52.2% jump from a year earlier.
Realtor.com's Orlando-area offerings run from a $10,000 two-bedroom house to a $10.9 million six-bedroom estate.
Second-best turnaround market: Miami
Median list price: $230,000
Miami was long the poster child for South Florida's housing bust, with tons of foreclosures and a 50% drop in median home prices from the market's 2006 peak.
But the city and its housing market are rebounding these days.
Joblessness fell to 8.4% from 10.9% a year earlier, while buyers from Latin America and other foreign locales are paying cash to snap up Miami-area properties for use as either investments or vacation homes.
"Miami is a great place for international buyers who like its great cultural mix and easy access from Europe and South America," Berkowitz says. "They're seeing a great opportunity to get in at attractive prices."
Median list prices are up 24.3%, to $230,000, while inventory is down 48%, to about 12,000 units, and time on market has fallen 41%, to 72 days. All-cash deals also accounted for 65% of the market in March -- more than double the 32% seen nationwide.
Realtor.com lists some 25,000 Miami-area properties for sale. Prices range from $12,600 for a one-bedroom condo to $19.5 million for a seven-bedroom mansion in tony Bal Harbour.
No. 1 turnaround market: Phoenix/Mesa, Ariz.
Median list price: $164,900
The Phoenix area's real estate market is rising from the ashes of a housing bust that left the city with a flood of foreclosures.
Berkowitz says good weather, an improving job market and low home prices are attracting lots of real estate investors.
"Investors see Phoenix as a place people want to move to or retire to," he says. "They say: 'It's always been a good place to live, and now's a good time to get in there.'"
Median Phoenix/Mesa median list prices are up 27% over the past year to $164,900 -- the biggest percentage jump in any of the 146 markets Realtor.com covers.
Available listings have also plunged 48%, to 17,158, while median time on market is down 32.9% to 57 days.
Additionally, local unemployment has fallen to 7.5% from 8.7% a year ago.
Realtor.com Phoenix listings range in price from a $13,000 short-sale one-bedroom condo to an $11.9 million nine-bedroom estate.