How high will housing rise in 2015?

Most economists agree that the U.S. housing market is continuing to rebound after the economy suffered its worse decline since the Great Depression. But they vary widely in their expectations for how strong that rebound will be. At least, housing seem likely to improve on a disappointing performance in 2014, when November's existing single-family home sales unexpectedly slumped to the lowest in six months.

Andres Carvacho-Burgos, an economist at MoodysEconomy.com, is one of the more optimistic observers. He expects existing-home sales to jump 20 percent this year, more than double the forecast of economists at the National Association of Realtors and Barclay's Bank, which both see existing-home sales gaining in the single digits.

Behind his bullishness are his expectations for strong household disposable income growth, bolstered by a jump in household formation. Moreover, Carvacho-Burgos is among the many economists who don't see the Federal Reserve raising interest rates from their historically low levels until 2016.

"We expect the U.S. to finish a full economic recovery by late 2015/early 2016," he wrote in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. "That is, the U.S. doesn't just regain the jobs it lost in recession, but also recovers most of the jobs it would have gained in 2008-2009 if there had been no recession. ... By contrast, a large number of other analysts expect a much slower recovery path. ... All of this adds up to a burst in homes sales rather than a slow increase, although the burst will not be as large as the previous decade's housing boom."

The accuracy of Carvacho-Burgos' prediction depends on whether the job market continues to strengthen and if gas prices, which have bottomed after reaching record lows, will remain in check.

"We are more optimistic in part because we are expecting the strong rebound to continue and for there to be an increase in residential construction activity," he said in an interview, adding that markets that were particularly hard hit during the Great Recession such as Las Vegas and Florida are improving by reducing sales of foreclosed inventories.

Carvacho-Burgos also argues that the decline in oil prices isn't having a significant impact on either the overall Texas economy or its real estate market. Indeed, Dallas real estate hasn't been this strong since the 1980s.

Signs of the housing rebound abound. Indianapolis was the only one of the nation's 35 largest metropolitan areas to post a decline in home values in December. Many communities, such as Denver, Houston, Atlanta and Orlando posted double-digit increases, according to real estate information service Zillow. A flood of foreign capital is flowing into real estate in New York City, and markets in other cities such as Washington, D.C., and Boston also are on a roll.

Even Detroit, which earned headlines because of its huge problem with abandoned properties, is seeing reason for optimism.

Some real estate observers have declared 2015 to be a "buyer's year."

"In 2015, we expect the progress begun last year to continue as market conditions that had been tilted almost exclusively toward home sellers begin to shift back to buyers," Zillow says on its website. "More first-time and millennial buyers will enter the market as they begin to marry and have children en masse, and as persistently high rents force more to consider the relative stability and value of homeownership."

The National Association of Realtors, which sees existing-home sales rising 6.6 percent in 2015, notes that many first-time buyers are being kept out of the market because of stringent credit standards, according to Chief Economist Lawrence Yuan. He expects new-home sales to jump 34 percent.

"Home values are rising faster than peoples' income, and that's affecting affordability," Yuan said in an interview.

House prices are also on the rise, posting a 5 percent annual increase in 2014, according to the CoreLogic National House Price Index. Barclays expects prices to rise 3 percent to 4 percent in 2015.

'We view the likelihood of higher mortgage interest rates from monetary policy normalization and still-tight credit conditions as factors that should limit the pace of home price appreciation," the bank said.

Barclay's economist Michael Gapen told CBS MoneyWatch that housing sales have already surged 25 percent in recent years and are now reaching a more normalized annual level of 5.4 million. He expects an increase of 4.2 percent in existing-home sales.

"It's suggestive of less upward momentum," he said. " I just don't feel a need to push the number higher."

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.