Small-town Texan realtor Rick Cumins is going to see a paycheck in April -- his first since December.

I've got two pending closings in April, one for a property worth $55,000, the other for $68,000. They'll pay the rent, he told Reuters in his modest office in the town of Cleburne, about 20 miles south of Fort Worth.

Cumins is not the only realtor who is starting to see some fleeting light at the end of a long and torturous tunnel.

Sales of previously owned U.S. homes rose at their fastest pace in nearly six years in February, data showed on Monday, providing some good news for the recession-hit economy.

They rose 5.1 percent in February to a 4.72 million-unit annual rate, notching their largest gain since July 2003, the National Association of Realtors said. But about 45 percent of the sales were foreclosure or short-sale transactions.

Yes, it is great news for everyone, but we've still got a lot of homes on the market and not a lot of qualified buyers, said Cumins, 54, whose own small real estate business is on the rocks just a year after he started it.

The North Texas real estate market has not been as badly affected as many parts of the country, thanks in part to a relatively sturdy economy and also to the fact that housing prices did not soar here as high as they did in some other regions.

But small time realtors like Cumins are still feeling the pain here in a sign of the overall gravity of the situation.

A crisis in the housing market sparked by a surge in delinquent sub prime mortgages was a key factor behind the U.S. slide into recession.

Now some realtors see the glimmer of a turnaround.


It's like it's been raining buyers, when they've been the scarcest thing in town, said Joan Dodd, a realtor who has worked 30 years in the Phoenix Valley -- one of the areas most blighted by foreclosures as boom turned to bust.

The buyers are just seeming to come out of nowhere ... We've had a long dry spell, but it seems to be over.

Dodd said she thought interest rates were fabulously low, which had helped entice buyers back into the market. She further cited an $8,000 tax allowance for first-time home buyers -- a view echoed by others.

Janie Hudson, a Kansas City realtor who has also been in the business for 30 years, said she saw positive trends.

It isn't great but I don't see any doom and gloom. If they are priced well they are starting to sell, she said.

Just this month, a three-bedroom ranch house, priced at $330,000, sold in its first week on the market at its asking price -- something she had not seen for some time.

Atlanta realtor Renee Kunkler said there were signs that things were starting to pick up and she expected the market to bounce back somewhat by the end of this year.

In recent weeks, Kunkler has seen increased numbers of buyers attracted by low rates and also a perception that there were good deals to be had.

She cited one example in which a buyer this week wanted to offer $600,000 on a house that had originally been priced at $799,000 before being reduced to $699,000.

All buyers are just obsessed about getting the deal. Nobody cares about loving a house. They care about getting a deal, a foreclosure, she said.

Prices have fallen less heavily in Atlanta's prosperous northern suburbs inside the perimeter freeway than elsewhere in the city in part because of proximity to the city center.

Back in Cleburne, times remain tough for Cumins.

When he started his business a year ago, he owed $19,000 on his own home. Now I owe $148,000, he said.

As a result of his business woes he has to sell some of his beloved guns from his collection of about three dozen.

I didn't expect it to get this bad, he said as he sat beneath the stuffed heads of trophy bucks in his office.

(Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Tim Gaynor in Phoenix and Matthew Bigg in Atlanta; editing by Mohammad Zargham)