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Where it's great to be a home buyer

If you're searching for property in Tampa, luck is on your side. Too many listed homes and not enough buyers means you've got the upper hand.

Want all-new appliances or $20,000 knocked off the asking price before you sign? Chances are, sellers in Tampa will be willing to comply.

The same can be said for Minneapolis, Miami and Kansas City, Mo. All three, like Tampa, currently favor buyers, thanks to an overabundance of supply and low sales rates.

The easiest way to judge our list is to examine the area's housing supply vs. demand. A good measurement? Take the current rate of sales and figure out how long it would take to burn off the excess inventory at that rate.

If that measure is low, houses are selling quickly. If it's high, houses are waiting on the market and prices can often be bargained down.

To determine which of the country's real-estate markets most benefit buyers, we looked at data from Moody's and the National Association of Realtors. We tracked excess inventory and the change in sales rate over the past year to gauge the relative tightening or loosening of the market. Then a measure of price stability was applied to prevent the list from being a rundown of sinking ships.

The findings

What resulted were rankings that measure current housing markets relative to a completely in-balance market.

New York's No. 9 spot doesn't mean you can expect to pick up a Fifth Avenue apartment at a rock-bottom price.

It means that based on the expansion of Gotham's housing stock, especially in the outlying metro area, there are a disproportionately high number of sellers for buyers. As a result, properties are staying on the market longer. Prices then often drop. New York housing is never cheap. But at present, buyers have more bargaining power than sellers.

This is especially evident in Tampa. Of American cities with populations of 500,000 or more, it is the best market for buyers. Florida generally has been going through a vast market correction thanks to overbuilding as well as shifting insurance underwriting and lending conditions. Miami finished third. If Sarasota, Palm Bay, Tallahassee or Pensacola had larger populations, they all would have made the top 10.

While the Tampa market has yet to bottom out, the silver lining for buyers is that it is a highly resilient market. Most of the fallout in Tampa can be attributed to its high share of properties owned by investors. That's correctable given the city's good economic and job-growth projections.

Chicago, at No. 5, has also felt the effects of a housing supply growing faster than demand. Brokers there say 2007 has been a slow year, and Moody's data support that. Chicago ranked seventh worst for listings outpacing sales and fifth worst for the tightening rate of the market.

Milwaukee came in eighth due to moderate scores in sales-to-listings ratio. The city does, after all, have an extremely low vacancy rate of 1.1%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Milwaukee market's future doesn't look quite as rosy, though. Its lack of an inventory has Moody's projecting a price trough for the city in the third quarter of 2008, but, based on local economic and job creation problems, that recovery is only expected to be 0.4% -- an "L-shaped" recovery that may not rejuvenate the market.

For the overall state of the housing market, it is extremely important to see how much inventory these buyer's markets can burn off between now and October, when the market typically slows down. If sales don't pick up and work out inventory issues, expect to see significant price declines.

The top cities for home buyers:

1. Tampa

2. Minneapolis

3. Miami - Real Estate for Sale

4. Kansas City, Mo.

5. Chicago

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