This has been an interesting year in the housing market.

It began with one of the worst winters in memory, which set the market back for the first quarter and a bit of the second.

The effects were not universally shared. Walkable markets such as Center City and adjacent neighborhoods and emerging suburban boroughs such as West Chester still saw plenty of transactions.

"We all have four-wheel-drive vehicles, so it hasn't been much of a problem," Kit Anstey, who sells out of the Berkshire Hathaway Home Services (BHHS) Fox & Roach office in West Chester, said at the time.

In other areas, days on market grew longer, inventory contracted as fewer people put their houses on the market for the spring selling season, and builders spent more time shoveling work sites than digging foundations.

By mid-March, though, buyers had "decided they are not waiting for better weather any longer," South Jersey builder Bruce Paparone said, and sales agreements were being signed again.

Through the spring, the inventory shortage persisted, slowly turning a buyer's market into a seller's market, if only briefly.

In the hotter suburban markets, there just wasn't enough for sale, real estate agents said. But that's not to say there weren't houses on the market.

At the second quarter's end, BHHS Fox & Roach's HomExpert Market Report showed an eight-county inventory of 42,104 homes, compared with 42,643 at the end of second quarter 2013 - about 1.5 percent fewer.

Yet sales at the end of the second quarter of 2014 were 6.6 percent lower than the comparable 2013 period - more than 1,000 fewer transactions.

Increases in both median and average price were minuscule, which Weichert Realtors agent Gloriann Ellis said kept inventory low in Thornbury Township, Delaware County, even as other places were seeing more houses for sale as summer came to an end.

"They're waiting for the prices to come back," she said of prospective sellers, noting that newer homes for which many paid $700,000 still were bringing only $600,000 at resale.

What the agents really meant by lack of inventory was that there were not enough houses for sale that today's buyers wanted to buy. Some make that very clear. Others don't.

It's apparent that a lot of homeowners didn't understand the difference, because this autumn has been marked by a surge in inventory at the same time there has been a drop in buyers.

"I'm hoping there will be enough pent-up demand after the first of the year," said Veronica Holz, an agent with Duffy Real Estate on the Main Line who sells in Willistown, Chester County.

The direction that real estate is heading continues to defy predictions. Most observers thought we'd have seen a major recovery and higher prices long before the end of 2014.

What we see, instead, are rent increases and condo prices running well ahead of single-family homes.

In the Philadelphia region, according to Trulia.com, that translates into asking prices for condos up 6 percent and rents 7.2 percent higher year over year.

Nationally, condo prices are up 7.3 percent year over year, versus 6 percent for single-family home prices.

Apartment rents rose 6.9 percent, while single-family home rents were up 5.2 percent.

Here's the kicker:

"I don't know if this is a trend anywhere else," Holz said, "but I'm finding that a lot of people no longer want large houses - 5,000 square feet."

"I think they believe it's just too much house to take care of," she said.

215-854-2472 @alheavens