Despite an improving economic picture, the housing market remains a drag on the U.S. economy. The Commerce Department says new home sales fell last month, even as median home prices continued to drop. The housing market in Florida - and the politics surrounding it - are at the center of attention as Republican presidential candidates campaign in that state for Tuesday's primary election.
More than four years after the housing bubble burst, the U.S. housing market is still struggling to recover. Among the hardest hit states are California, Nevada and Florida, where foreclosure rates have been the highest.
"I've seen ups and downs, but never anything that had the challenges that exist today," said Florida realtor Moe Veissi, president of the National Association of Realtors.
Despite a very uneven recovery, Viessi sees light at the end of the tunnel.
"We're really on the cusp of what is perceived to be a real recovery and most of the economists will tell you that they see Florida, especially the southeast end of Florida, in that recovery mode for the next 2-3-4-5 years," said Viessi.
But it is a guarded optimism. Millions of Americans struggle to pay mortgages worth more than the value of their homes. Veissi said government needs to help overextended homeowners even as Republican presidential candidates take a largely hands-off approach. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney thinks government should simply get out of the way.
"My own view is you recognize the distress, you take the loss and people reset, let people start over again, you let the banks start over again," said Romney.
Veissi disagrees. He welcomes the spotlight on housing as the remaining Republican presidential candidates compete for primary election votes in Florida.
"They should be talking about the ability for a new homeowner to get financing if they want it, they should be talking about the ability to streamline the foreclosure process in America, and we'll push housing as an important issue in this election," said Veissi.
Despite the drop in new home sales in December, Veissi said overall trends are positive. Sales of previously owned homes are rising, the pace of construction is picking up, and interest rates have never been lower.
"Frankly, I think that the American dream is probably more attainable now than it ever has been," said Veissi.