I have to agree with Ladaclay on this one, and I am the eternal optimist. The economy will of course go up. The thing is...when?
The key to housing is unemployment, which everyone knows deep down inside. You need a stable job AND savings in order to purchase a home. People right now who are unemployed are also depleting their savings and/or are in debt, im sure, in order to make ends meet.
Car sales are different, as you do not need any money to put down and just about anyone can obtain financing for a car. The only difference from one person to the other is what their interest rate will be on the loan.
It is MUCH easier to get financing for a car, compared to a house. THis is because, for the most part, the auto companies themselves are either doing the financing or are in agreements with banks for the financing.
Plus, the 'shadow' inventory of homes out there, along with homes currently on the market, should be taken seriously. Most of these homes are not older homes and will not be bulldozed/knocked down so that builders will build bigger homes. There is no rationale behind that. Why would the bank want to see thier asset get destroyed unless they are getting paid handsomely by the builders.
You also mentioned, Dan, that builders have a crapload of land on their books which they still own. I doubt theyll pay off banks for these homes to build on that land when they have land of their own to build on.
It all comes down to fundamentals of the economy, which people always tend to forget. As long as unemployment remains high (and i am talking about the U-6 number, not the BS number the gov't pushes out), the economy will grow, but at a snails pace.
Don't expect housing prices to go up significantly for the next few years.