The evidence is mounting. After a few false starts, it looks like home prices—at least on a national level—have finally found a floor and are inching up.
Asking prices—a leading indicator of sale prices—rose about 0.3 percent in June, according to Trulia's Price Monitor, marking the fourth solid increase in the past five months.
While a measly 0.3 percent month-over-month change might seem like nothing to celebrate about, increases at the same pace spread out over the entire year could mean a 3 or 4 percent price increase overall, says Jed Kolko, Trulia's chief economist.
"For a month-over-month increase, it's significant," Kolko says, emphasizing that though month-over-month gains may be small, they are broad-based. "Asking price increases are widespread—84 of the 100 largest metros had price increases quarter-over-quarter."
But that doesn't mean the housing market is out of the proverbial woods—real estate is very localized, which means what Americans see in their own neighborhoods could be a lot different from what the data shows at a national level.
For instance, even though home values are gaining ground at a slower pace nationally, some metro areas are seeing year-over-year asking prices shoot up by double digits. Phoenix, Miami, and Cape Coral, Fla. all saw price increases of at least 15 percent.
That pace probably isn't sustainable though, Kolko says, especially given those cities' high share of homes in various stages of foreclosure, which tend to sell at sizable discounts.
"Those markets [are] at-risk markets, even though they've seen big price increases," Kolko says. "Job growth isn't as strong, construction hasn't rebounded much, so we're more seeing a bounce back than the seeds of long-term price growth."
But while home values are still limping along in many parts of the country, rents are racing ahead, running circles around the tiny month-over-month increases seen in the for-sale market. Nationally, rents were 5 percent higher in June than they were a year ago, according to Trulia's Rent Monitor, rising year-over-year in 24 of the 25 largest rental markets.
Rising rents generally mean that consumers have to shell out more money on housing and less on other things, but that might ultimately be a good thing when it comes to the for-sale market.
"When rents are rising faster than prices, that makes buying more affordable than renting," Kolko says. "Even as prices start to rise, so long as rents rise faster, there are some people who will do the math and decide buying is a better deal."
But those that are ready to take the plunge might face stiff competition this year when it comes to turnkey, move-in-ready properties. Markets across the nation are facing inventory shortages, fueling multiple bids on desirable properties and higher sale prices.
"It all depends on how many houses are available in the area and the competition a listing has," says Tony Geraci, broker and owner of Century21 HomeStar, based in the Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, Ohio region. "The active buyers are looking and when they see a good [home] go fast in a couple of days, they say, 'This is serious, I have to move now.'"
Still, the price increases Geraci is seeing are more modest, leading him to believe that this housing recovery won't be setting the stage for another boom and bust cycle.
"Overall, real estate is going to increase like it should have, at a steady pace, not like 20 percent in two years," Geraci adds.
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 at @mmhandley.