Aerial view of Houston neighborhood © Ocean, Corbis, Corbis

Another week, another round of favorable housing news. So let’s stop dithering and call this race.

Housing has won. The real estate bears have lost.

Of course, whether you’re a skeptic who hates this Federal Reserve-driven recovery or simply one of those cautious types who don’t like to act hastily, it’s easy to scoff at this notion. After all, there’s no universal indicator indicating “recovery” -- and no balloons that drop if and when we pass the threshold.

But while there’s no single item that states definitively whether housing is back, there are a host of data points that, collectively, tell a compelling story. Here’s a sampling:

Prices

S&P/Case-Shiller released its Home Price Indices for the first quarter of 2013 this week, and the numbers blew the doors off -- again. This was the 10th consecutive month with a year-over-year gain, with the 10-city metro index, the 20-city metro index and even the nationwide index all tacking on double digit gains. It was also the largest year-over-year increase for the for the Composite 20 index of 20 since 2006 with metro areas Charlotte, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Tampa recorded their largest month-over-month gains in over seven years.

Prices, part two

Before the big report this week, last week the Federal Housing Financing Authority posted its first quarter housing price index report, which showed its seventh consecutive quarterly increase. Compared with the first quarter of 2012, house prices were up 6.7%. Broken out by state, prices were up in 41 states and the District of Columbia -- pretty darn close to the entire nation.

Starts and permits

Housing construction as measured by the Census Bureau is still booming, though admittedly in April we saw a month-over-month cooling in starts that was significant. But despite this hiccup, the rate remains up 13% year-over-year and included permitting that hit the highest levels in five years. This is hardly a bubble popping.

Builder confidence

A further indicator of forward-looking strength: The National Association of Homebuilders reported that builder confidence improved again across the board in April. Measures of current sales conditions, sales expectations and prospective buyer traffic all moved higher. Of specific interest was that NAHB’s measure of confidence in future sales hit the highest level since February 2007. Considering homebuilder stocks like Toll Brothers (TOL) and PulteGroup (PHM) have already exploded in the last year, growing optimism after the run -- instead of doubt -- is noteworthy.

Housing stocks

While I’m talking tickers, how about less-obvious housing plays than builders? Housewares retailer Williams-Sonoma (WSM), paint maker Sherwin-Williams (SHW) and of course, home-improvement retailer Home Depot (HD) are all up over 50% in the last 12 months. Appliance manufacturer Whirlpool (WHR) is up over 100% in the same period, as is Lumber Liquidators (LL). There’s a lot of profits to go around, and a lot of optimism over all corners of the housing recovery.

Distressed sales

Bill McBride over at Calculated Risk was one of the first housing bears, years before the 2008 crash, and has his eyes clearly on real estate trends. A great post from mid-May included data for some of the hardest hit areas in the U.S., and in every one, distressed sales were down year-over-year. Phoenix, for example, was seeing almost 67% of its properties sold as foreclosures or short sales in April 2012, but under 43% in April 2013. Phoenix was down from 44% to about 24%. This shows that even the ugliest markets are becoming somewhat normal again as distressed inventory is bled down.

This list is just from the last two weeks. I could go on, but you get the idea.

This is not to say housing will go nowhere but up. The easy-money policies at the Federal Reserve are great now, fostering low interest rates, but tightening in 2014 or 2015 will hurt mortgage demand down the road. And while the stock market lately may make us believe there is no such thing as down, it’s natural to see some drawbacks on the road to recovery.

But any future dips won’t derail housing.

Credit isn’t as easy to come by as it was in the go-go days of the early 2000s, so borrowers are less likely to lose their homes and bloat inventories again. And even if banks do lighten up their standards, many consumers won’t be as eager to take on crushing mortgages or home equity loans after being burned by the downturn.

Throw in the fact that it remains more expensive to rent than own in most markets, and you have plenty of reasons to think the gains in home prices and real estate sales will stick.

Of course, the big downside of the current real estate environment is that despite an improving housing market we aren’t seeing commensurate improvements in the broader economy. That’s because of the aforementioned aversion to credit risk, both among lenders and consumers, as well as a reluctance to staff up at builders and related companies.

So while housing is up, spending and hiring aren’t.

But that’s an issue for another time. While we can and should debate housing’s role in a broader growth story, let’s stop debating whether or not housing is in a recovery.

It is. Case closed.

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