The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) said consumer confidence is growing across the country, especially in rural and middle America.  Its most recent quarterly Housing Opportunities and Market Experience (HOME) survey found the share of households who believed the economy is improving rose to the highest level during the first quarter of 2017 than at any time in the five-year history of the survey.  Sixty-two percent of respondents expressed positive sentiments about the economy, up from 54 percent at the end of 2016 and 48 percent last March.

NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said the geographic dispersal of answers to the question represents an extraordinary reversal from previous surveys.  Positive answers rose from 51 percent in the Midwest last quarter to 67 percent and in rural areas by 20 percentage points to 63 percent.  A year earlier only 49 percent of Midwesterners and 35 percent of those living in rural areas thought the economy was improving.

"Confidence levels generally rise after a presidential election as the nation hopes for the best.," Yun said.  "Even though it is a highly polarized country, consumers for the most part have upbeat feelings about the economy right now.  Stronger business and consumer morale typically lead to even more hiring and spending, which in turn encourages more households to make big decisions like buying a home. These positive developments would be especially good news for prospective homebuyers in the more affordable Midwest region."

The HOME survey also asks respondents various questions about their housing expectations.  Among renters, the share who view this as a good time to buy a house continues to decline, dropping 1 percentage point from last quarter and 6 points from a year earlier to 56 percent.  A much higher percentage of homeowners think it is a good time to buy, 80 percent, compared to 78 percent in the last survey and 82 percent a year ago.  Younger households, those living in the costlier West region - where prices continue to spike - are the least optimistic.

Yun said worsening inventory conditions and rising home prices and mortgage rates are all causing renters to be more negative toward homebuying.  "These factors are giving many renter households a pause about it being a good time to buy, even as their job prospects improve and wages grow. Unless there's a significant boost in supply levels this spring, these constraints will unfortunately slow or delay some prospective buyers' pursuit of purchasing a home."

One promising trend that could alleviate supply shortages is the notable bump in the share of respondents who believe now is a good time to sell a home; 69 percent this quarter compared to 62 percent in the previous quarter and 56 percent in the first quarter of 2016.

Continuing the trend over the past year, those in the West continue to be the most likely to think now is a good time to sell (77 percent), while also being the least likely to think it's a good time to buy (61 percent).

The survey responses pointed to improved feelings about one's own household finances. The HOME survey's monthly Personal Financial Outlook Index showing respondents' confidence that their financial situation will be better in six months, jumped to its highest reading in the survey, climbing to 62.6 in March from 59.8 in December 2016. A year ago, the index was 58.1.

NAR President William E. Brown says homeowners looking to trade up or move down this spring could find themselves in a tricky spot without careful planning and a reliable expert on their side. "Demand far outpaces supply in many parts of the country right now, which means homeowners will likely sell their home much quicker than the time it takes to buy another," he said. He advises sellers to work with their Realtors to develop a carefully crafted plan before listing their home.

The HOME survey was conducted via random digit dialing of both land lines and cell phones in January through early March.  Each month approximately 900 qualified households responded to the survey. A total of 2,698 household responses are represented in the reported data.