PhotoSellers remain firmly in the driver's seat in most real estate markets across the country as the 2017 home shopping season gets underway.

That's because in most housing markets, the inventory of available homes for sale continues to fall. Zillow reports the average home value was up 7% last month, when compared to February 2016. At the same time, the average inventory of available homes was down 3% year-over-year.

Tampa, Seattle, Dallas, and Orlando saw home values rise the most among the 35 largest housing markets. All grew at a double digit pace.

In the Tampa market, home values surged nearly 12% to a median home value of $182,100. Seattle and Dallas saw values go up 11% in the last year.

Supply and demand

It all comes down to supply and demand. There are more people shopping for houses and fewer houses to buy. Sellers are able to ask more and get it.

Florida has seen the most shrinking inventory. The number of homes on the market in Tampa is down 5% and has dropped 11% in Orlando. It's not necessarily an improving economy that's driving the housing market, but rather a shortage of available properties.

"Low inventory, strong demand and tough competition will be the defining characteristics of this year's home shopping season," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. "Even though interest rates are rising, buyers are eager to start their home search."

Be prepared to pay more

So what do you do if you've decided to buy a home? Gudell says you should be prepared to offer more than the asking price, if it's a home you really want in one of the nation's hotter housing markets. That's because attractive houses, attractively priced, tend to get multiple offers.

"Buyers should give themselves enough time to get their finances in order and find a real estate agent they know and trust before jumping into the market," Gudell said.

Think you'll rent for a while longer? Fine, but understand rents are going up too, though not as much and as fast as they have in recent years.

Zillow reports the national median rent is up 1.2% in the last 12 months, to a median $1,406 per month. But expect to pay a lot more in Seattle, Portland, and Sacramento, Calif. There, rents have risen between 5% and 7%.


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