By Art Holliday

ST LOUIS (KSDK) - Sold; it's a sign of the times: existing homes are selling again.

"It's the best time we've had since fourth quarter 2005," said broker Jeannie Baumgartner, a real estate agent for 15 years in Jefferson and South St. Louis counties. "Last year in Jefferson County, south of St. Louis, we had approximately 3,000 houses on the market. To date in 2013, we have 1,500 with 52 percent already under contract."

The good news is there's a housing recovery underway, with home prices rising steadily. But according to the National Association of Realtors, the supply of existing homes for sale has declined for seven straight months. Much of the country is moving from a buyer's market to a seller's market.

"Supply and demand," said Baumgartner. "There are less homes for the buyers to choose from."

That's the big story locally and nationally: the lack of home sellers. One result of the housing bust a few years ago is that homeowners who might want to sell their homes cannot afford to because they lost so much equity. Experts say a return to normal home inventory levels could take years.

"I think in St. Louis, it's not quite as much of a problem, but clearly there are situations where the value of the house has decreased to below what the mortgage amount is," said Heartland Bank President David Minton.

Minton said historically low interest rates continue to draw buyers and sellers into the real estate market, fueling a slow housing recovery.

"If you've got a good payment history and you've got a steady job, and you've been responsible with your finances and aren't putting yourself over your head, it's a great time to buy a house and a great time to get a loan," Minton said.

"If you are credit worthy, definitely get pre-qualified so you can come in and with a good offer on the home that you're wanting to purchase," Baumgartner said. "For the seller, this is the best market we've seen in many, many years."