Several challenges face the housing market that will prevent a boom from taking shape, particularly tight lending conditions that have prompted the recovery to be marked by slow, rather than rapid, growth. We have strong job creation in the private sector, though a little slow in our local area. Auto sales are quite strong, home sales are coming back and we do have interest rates at a 50-year low. That, along with job growth and low inventory, means that the housing market is recovering. Perhaps the reason housing isn't booming is because the government has responded to the economic downturn by trying to fight the wrong problem. The problem is not that there is not enough money, because the Federal Reserve has poured a lot of money into the economy. We have too much money out there, not too little money. The problem is loan availability. Strict credit score requirements have led to 40 percent of potential buyers unable to qualify for a loan today.There are major concerns looming with the "fiscal cliff," a number of tax increases and spending cuts that are expected to go into effect next year, if lawmakers are unable to reach a deal before the deadline. Although we don't know what's going to happen, we do know taxes will be higher. A lot higher or a little higher, we don't know. It will hurt the housing market because there will be less money in the system. But how big an effect it will have will depend on which tax increases take effect. With prices attractive and interest rates still historically low, it's not just a tagline that now is a great time to buy, especially for younger households. But the National Association of Realtors' recently released 2012 Home Buyer and Home Seller Survey shows younger households are struggling to get in at this advantageous time. Instead, we're seeing a strengthening in the older, married, higher-income, move-up buyer market, and the reason appears very much related to the biggest housing policy challenge facing the federal government today: Getting banks to return underwriting standards to the safe and reasonable standards they employed prior to the housing boom.Jessica Lautz of NAR Research at the 2012 Realtors Conference & Expo in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month walked the press through the latest survey findings and they were striking: A drop in the young, single female buyers who had been growing into such an important part of the market in the last several years; first-time buyers still trying to come back to historically normal levels; and big gains by older, married, move-up buyers, including those who already own a second home.What the trends suggest is the restrictive mortgage environment is making it hard for younger buyers to get into the market, leaving a good share of it to more established households, including those with two incomes.Local market updateIn the local Rifle, Parachute, Silt and New Castle areas, there are still a lot of short sales under contract. Several new short sales are being added to the inventory every month. Most of the current inventory is pretty well picked over. When a new listing of good value comes on the market, we are getting multiple offers at over the asking price, and these are usually under contract within a week. The current inventory of good properties is the lowest I have seen in several years. The real estate market is picking up and I have been busier than I have been in the past four years. I would like to introduce a new broker in our office, Amie Marx. She and her family came here from New Mexico. She has been a school teacher and has decided to try real estate sales. We will be working together on a lot of new projects, including possibly building some new homes in Rifle and Silt.I am looking forward to a better year in the local economy for 2013. All indications point to a good improvement. I think we will see more activity in the natural gas industry than we have seen in the last couple of years. In talking with several local business owners, they indicate a strong improvement recently.We want to share a little secret with you. We don't spend our time cold calling or prospecting people for business. Instead, we focus all our efforts on giving such outstanding service, people naturally think of us when a friend, neighbor or family member needs a caring and competent Realtor.We would like to take a moment to acknowledge and thank a few of the special people in our lives who've helped build our business with their enduring support and referrals. We couldn't do it without you, so thank you! We want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a great and prosperous New Year.Glenn Ault and Amie Marx are brokers at Bray Real Estate in Rifle.