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Tickers in this Article: IYR, VNQ
Despite a bunch of new stats, trends and regulations circulating about the housing market, nothing points to its definitive direction in 2014.

That leaves prospective homebuyers, home sellers, loan candidates, banks, real estate agents and investors scratching their heads. Making matters more confusing is that even the experts can't agree or seem to be analyzing the numbers differently.

Perhaps a quick review the trends might help clarify the issues at hand. I'll start with the good news, but a word of warning: The potential bad news that follows could be devastating -- and the possibility of the 30-year-fixed rate rising to 5% by the end of 2014 may be the least of your worries.

So, without further ado, here's some good news:

A pair of U.S. agencies recently reported that October new-home sales rose 25% from the previous month. Market analyst Trulia says that November's asking home prices rose 12.1% year over year, up in 98 of the 100 largest U.S. metro areas. And though Case-Shiller data for November won't be released until Dec. 31, Zillow predicts it will reveal a 13.9% year-over-year increase for the month. 

Perhaps the most comprehensive positive comments about 2014 came from Freddie Mac, which predicts that housing starts should rise to 1.15 million, helping to create 700,000 new jobs; that home sales should rise 5% to 6% over 2013 levels; and that home values are expected to rise at the same clip.

Those numbers ought to have some people dancing in the streets, but you might want to be sitting down to read the rest.

Changes in lending rules due to take effect Jan. 10, 2014 -- meant to protect borrowers from being sold bad loans like those that led to the financial collapse in 2008, and financial institutions from litigation -- may make it very difficult for some would-be homebuyers.

According to private research firms, between 10% and 50% of borrowers who could qualify today won't be able to when the new rules kick in. Refinancings in particular will likely be hit more because the changes will lower the higher debt-to-income ratio often used.

Broadly put, a new mortgage or refinancing must not put a borrower's overall household cost at more than 43% of his or her income. Much of that has to do with the types of new debt considered toward so-called household costs, such as student loans, property taxes, and fees and points related to the actual purchase. 

Even people with strong credit and cash flow stand to be rejected. Baby boomers close or in retirement and young adults fresh out of college (read: with five- or six-digit student loan debt) with lower incomes probably won't qualify.

Those who lost a job and found another in the past five years may not pass the strict requirements for job history and employment standing. Small businesses or independent contractors will need to prove consistent income. You say you're divorced or recently widowed? Good luck.

A whole other group of prospective buyers may lose their ability as well if the jumbo loan caps are reduced next year. The same state hit hardest by foreclosures, California, also has some of the most expensive real estate. Right now, jumbo loans (which don't qualify for lower government-backed interest rates) stand at $700,000 but may be lowered to $400,000. The average median home price there is $352,000.

Of course, if more-restrictive lending rules put a stranglehold on the housing market, stocks across the board are bound to falter. 

However, I found a company with a higher degree of immunity than most: Realogy (NYSE: RLGY), a real estate and relocation services company with ties in the U.S. and more than 100 other countries. It is the parent company to behemoths like Century 21, Coldwell Banker and Sotheby's International Realty. In 2012, Realogy was involved with more than a quarter of all U.S. existing-home sales that involved a real estate broker.

On the relocation side of the coin, Realogy runs the largest company of its kind in Connecticut-based Cartus Corp., serving 64% of the Fortune 50 and assisting more than 158,000 transferees in and out of 150 countries in 2012. International relocations are on the rise, and the U.S. has just taken over China as the favorite spot to do business, according to Cartus' just-released survey of international mobility managers.

Realogy has its roots planted in all the right places, as its third-quarter earnings show. Revenue soared 21.2% to $1.5 billion, buoyed by a 29% surge in year-over-year home sale transactions. The company sees that figure growing 17% to 19% in 2014. These numbers are especially impressive considering the concern about the housing market in the third quarter stemming from interest rates' rise from May lows. 

Realogy also has an affluent customer base that's less vulnerable to rough patches in the economy and tighter loan restrictions: The price of its average transaction was 87% higher than the national average last quarter. 

RLGY  is up 14% in the past three months, outperforming the iShares U.S. Real Estate ETF (NYSE: IYR), the Vanguard REIT Index ETF (NYSE: VNQ) and the S&P 500 Index.

Risks to Consider: If the housing market collapses, Realogy will likely be negatively affected. However, it should continue to perform well throughout a slowdown, especially with its international reach.

Action to Take --> RLGY recently moved above its 200-day moving average and has gained momentum over the past quarter. I'd buy at its current level and look for more upside into 2014.

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