Watching the housing market over the past several years has been a bit like watching paint dry, with the most exciting adjectives used to describe it being: flat, slow, and steady.
But today's existing home sales data could be an inflection point for the housing market. Sales increased more than 3 percent over March numbers, the inventory of homes for sale was down, and potentially the biggest piece of news, median home prices were up. A lot.
On average, median home prices were up more than 10 percent from last year, according to the National Association of Realtors. Even better, gains weren't concentrated in one region of the country—median and average prices were up in all four regions NAR tracks.
But knowing exactly why prices shot up is a difficult task, according to Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight. Prices can rapidly tick up for a lot of reasons, including a sharp pickup in demand or if the proportion of distressed (and many times heavily discounted) property sales significantly drops. An increase in sales of more expensive homes can also drive median and average price readings up.
"Without more information than [what was] contained in the report, it is impossible to tell what drove home prices up last month," Newport wrote in a note to clients. Still, the report was "surprisingly good" overall, he noted.
Still, a growing number of experts believe the housing market has just about hit bottom, with some predicting that prices will continue to go up rather than down in the near term. Others remain cautious, reminding optimists that prices are still more than 20 percent off their 2006 peak.
But even with the specter of rising home prices adding a sense of urgency to house hunters' searches, the ability to obtain mortgage financing could still stand in the way of some Americans' chance to get a killer deal on real estate.
"Hopefully some of the very tight underwriting standards of recent years begin to dissipate in future years," says Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist.
That seems to be happening a little bit, according to Yun, who says it's no longer just investors armed with cash offers who are taking advantage of the high affordability conditions.
"A return of normal home buying for occupancy is helping home sales across all points, and now the recovery appears to be extending to home prices," he added.
Meg Handley is a business reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter.