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Consumer confidence, home prices make gains in March

Real estate agent Shellie Young shows a home

Real estate agent Shellie Young shows a home for sale on March 29, 2010 in Miami, Florida. Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON - U.S. Consumers gained confidence in March as the gloom over job prospects began to lift, indicating employment will be central to preserving the recent acceleration in spending.

The New York-based Conference Board's confidence index rose to 52.5, exceeding the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, from 46.4 in February, according to figures released Tuesday.

Separately, home prices in 20 U.S. cities rose 0.3 percent in January, indicating the housing market is stabilizing as the economy expands. The S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index climbed from the prior month on a seasonally adjusted basis after a similar gain in December.

Cheaper homes, low borrowing costs and government incentives have combined to support the housing market after its collapse helped trigger the recession.

"It's a temporary stabilization," said Joseph Brusuelas, president of Brusuelas Analytics in Stamford, Conn. "Foreclosures are still going to bite the market."

On Long Island, the concern among some brokers is how the market will fare once government incentives - particularly the $8,000 first-time home buyer's credit, which ends next month, and record-low interest rates - expire.

"I really don't think it's [the market] going to go back down," said Mary Ellen Divone, attorney and broker owner of Herricks Realty in New Hyde Park. "I still feel that so many people are still looking to get that house and make a move."

L.P. Finn III, director of corporate services at Northport-based Coach Realtors, said Tuesday that sustaining the office's busy April calendar of open houses hinges on interest rates.

"While one item is off the table, the tax credit, you still have the other item that's bringing really great affordability to the market," he said. "What if you change the affordability? Less people can buy that home."

With staffer Ellen Yan

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