The question is always there: Is it the right time to buy real estate?Prices are leveling out and inventory of affordable homes is the lowest it's been for years in this area. Interest rates for home loans are at historic lows, funds are available for lenders, and interest rates are likely to increase in future months as the economy continues to show growth nationwide. Home prices are beginning to edge up across the U.S., a trend which usually isn't reflected in our local market for several months behind the national trend, but is inevitable here, too.Foreclosures were less in number in 2012 compared to the year before. On that happy note, we also have fewer bank-owned properties entering our local market now. Although real estate owned by a bank and short sales made up most sales for 2012, we are now seeing traditional-owner properties entering the market, too. When we say traditional-owner properties, we are referring to sellers that are not underwater and have the ability to sell their homes without a deficiency.We were very happy to see the government approve the extension for the debt relief program through 2013. This program was offered to sellers that were underwater and had to sell their homes as a short sale. For example, if a seller owes $200,000 and sells for $150,000 the $50,000 difference is not taxable. As with any tax question, please contact your tax advisor.As we all know, the real estate market has been a challenge for the past four years. It has affected buyers and sellers alike as well as every industry that has fingers in the home buying or home building process. With that being said, things are looking up.Prices are more affordable today than they have been in several years. Interest rates for home loans will not be lower and inventory is shrinking. As Realtors, we are optimistic about the future of real estate. If you have been thinking of buying your first home, or moving up to a larger house in the area, now is the opportune time to do so.Danette Dickey and Mary Huffine are brokers at Real Estate Out West.