OGDEN -- The chief economist for the National Association of Realtors says Utah's housing market is improving, and the trend likely will continue.
Lawrence Yun, chief economist and senior vice president of research for NAR, spoke to Top of Utah Realtors on Thursday morning at the Ogden Marriott Hotel.
Yun said the Mountain West region -- particularly Utah, Colorado and Idaho -- has the best opportunity for housing markets to improve.
"If there is one area of the country where there is a clear, definite growth opportunity, it's here," Yun said. "This is where people are moving to. Utah is one of the fastest-growing states in terms of population."
According to the Utah Association of Realtors, 2011 home sales in the state were the highest they've been since 2007, with nearly 33,000 homes sold last year.
Compared to 2010, sales were up nearly 9 percent.
They were 5 percent above 2009 levels and about 6 percent higher than the year-end total for 2008.
Yun said the fact that mortgage rates are at a historic low and affordability is very high are among the reasons sales increased in 2011.
The economist said he expects another 6 to 9 percent increase nationally in 2012.
Yun said unemployment numbers are going down, the stock market is recovering and rental prices are rising -- all factors that will drive up the housing market.
Yun said one factor keeping home sales below what they could be is that it is now much harder to get a loan with lower credit scores.
He said that during the housing boom in 2007, virtually anyone -- even unqualified borrowers -- could get a home loan.
"Now, the pendulum has swung too much the other way," he said. "If the pendulum swings back to normal, there would be 15 to 20 percent more home sales."
Yun said he thinks the pendulum will swing back to normal.
"The housing market is very cyclical," he said. "But history has shown that it can recover very robustly."