Information available through March 2011 from the Case-Shiller Home Price Index reveals that home prices nationwide have dropped by 4.2% during the first quarter of 2011, after falling 3.6% in the fourth quarter of 2010. The index hit a new low with the first quarter’s data and posted an annual decline of 5.1% in comparison to the first quarter of 2010. National home prices are back to 2002 levels. Las Vegas, meanwhile, has home prices that are at 1999 levels.The homebuyer credits that ended a year ago only prolonged the correction process. Nationally, the programs temporarily stopped prices from dropping further. However, the laws of economics win in the long run. The inbalance between supply and demand cause prices to keep deflating. Until the market absorbs the many empty homes that exist, prices will remain low. The next few years should offer plenty of opportunities and bargains. According to the New York Times, the portion of homeowners continues to drop steadily. 2006 was the peak for home ownership with nearly 70% of homes being owner occupied. “Even as the economy began to fitfully recover in the last year, the percentage of homeowners dropped sharply, to 66.4 percent, from a peak of 69.2 percent in 2004. The ownership rate is now back to the level of 1998, and some housing experts say it could decline to the level of the 1980s or even earlier.” Only adding to the problem is the lack of financing available. People must have better credit in order to buy in today’s market. In addition, many people are still stuck with huge loans that have higher balances than what the properties are worth. The only options for these individuals are either to continue to pay or default. Either way, people in this situation will not be home buyers anytime soon. Now, it’s become less popular to buy a home. People no longer see houses as investments they way they did in 2006. This is tragic in a way because many properties in many areas offer over 20% return on investment from cash flow alone. But it takes a long period of rising prices to attract most investors. Because the structural problems will not go away overnight, there’s still time to hold out and wait for the perfect deal.