Real Estate: what's the market like now? January and February were as tough on real estate as they were on car makers, department stores, and retailers of all kinds. Though consumers were fighting off the effects of cabin fever, they still wouldn't go out in the storms. What happened to real estate? Sales of existing homes fell significantly, and home builders suffered from a shortage of buyers who wanted to show up and sign on the dotted line. In case you're wondering what all this has to do with you, first of all, the shortage of existing homes for sale has been partly alleviated. Sellers who had listed their homes at the beginning of the year are probably still out there. Plus, many sellers who stood back, waiting to list their homes, have now put them on the market as well. Instead of waiting for inside information on nice homes that will be up for sale, you can now choose among several nice homes in your price range. It's going to be a good spring for sellers as well. They are still enjoying the effect of an 11 percent increase in home prices last year. Though economists say home prices will continue to rise, it won't by nearly as much. But no economists say prices will fall, so now is a good time to sell. Home buyers should realize that, although homes they look at will sell for somewhat more than they did a year or two ago, the home they are selling will also bring a higher price. Sometimes it's hard to realize the trade off, but look for it. It's there. After the Federal Reserve spooked the market last year over its intentions to stop propping up the mortgage and bond markets, 30-year fixed mortgage rates spiked to an average of 4.6 percent. Now they have settled back to about 4.1 percent, according to FreddieMac. That's still a historically low rate. If you want and need to buy a home, you couldn't go wrong with taking the plunge right now. Both home prices and mortgage rates aren't going to get any lower, either this year or later on.