WORKING out the right time to buy a house is always hard. Homes are horribly expensive. The slightest up- or down-tick in the market can cost or save huge sums. In America, those mulling a purchase are hearing particularly confusing signals. Prices have soared for the past couple of years, suggesting that those who wait will suffer. But slowing prices, weak construction data and jitters about a possible interest-rate rise (among other worries) suggest that prices might drop, as they did five years ago. Perhaps scrambling onto the housing ladder now is unwise after all?

Homebuyers have cause to be nervous: during the crisis of 2008 and 2009 prices fell by 60% in some places. Yet since then America has bounced back remarkably. Median property prices in the north-east are well above previous highs, having risen by 51% between 2009 and 2013. Prices in the Midwest and South pipped previous peaks in 2012. Only in the West are homes worth less now than in the bubbly mid-2000s. Yet prices there are rising fast: by over 11% in 2013. At that pace, they will beat past records by the end of this year.