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List of Improving Markets Surges to 201 in December

The number of new improving markets observed by the ""National Association of Home Builders"":http://www.nahb.org/default.aspx (NAHB) skyrocketed in December, according to a release from the group.

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The NAHB/ ""First American"":http://www.firstam.com/ Improving Markets Index (IMI) surged to 201, up 76 metros from November's data. The number of states represented in the index also increased, rising to 44 (plus the District of Columbia) from 38 previously.

December marks the fourth straight month to see an increase in the IMI.

The index identifies markets that have shown sustained (six months or longer) improvement from their respective troughs in terms of housing permits, employment, and home prices. Data for the index is taken from Freddie Mac (home prices), the Bureau of Labor Statistics (employment), and the Census Bureau (permits).

According to the data, 84 new metros debuted on December's list, including Atlanta, Georgia; Bloomington, Illinois; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Seattle, Washington; and Green Bay, Wisconsin. Previously improving markets now off the list include Des Moines, Iowa; Muncie, Indiana; Syracuse, New York; and Mount Vernon, Washington.

""The big gain in improving markets this December indicates that key measures of housing and economic strength have now been holding steady or improving in metros across the country for six months or more, which is an important signal of stability amidst the slowly emerging recovery,"" said NAHB chairman Barry Rutenberg, a home builder from Gainesville, Florida.

The biggest hurdle keeping the list from growing even more, he says, is ""the difficulty that potential buyers continue to experience with regard to overly tight mortgage qualifying standards.""

NAHB chief economist David Crowe says the index's continued improvement is just another in a long line of indicators that the market is getting back on its legs. While the association expects improvements will continue, there is at least one obstacle that could trip things up.

""In general, we expect the overall housing recovery to continue expanding in 2013,"" Crowe said. ""However, that is absent a major policy change of the kind that some policymakers have been discussing with regard to the mortgage interest deduction.""

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