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Homes sweet homes

Investors seeking to profit from the strengthening housing market are not limited to homebuilders, apartment REITs and home improvement retailers.

Real estate listing websites offer another option in an advertising-driven business model that can thrive when the market is hot. And there are clear signs of improvement. The sales of previously occupied homes topped an annual pace of 5 million in May for the first time in 31/2 years. And sales of new homes rose at the fastest pace in five years.

For years, many real estate brokers have highlighted their client's listings online and provided links to databases of other homes for sale. Zillow and Trulia feature home listings for sale and rent across the country, in addition to interactive tools that mine a trove of neighborhood data and other housing-related information. A third company, Move, operates a network of real estate listing and information portals, including the National Association of Realtors' website.

One concern is that higher mortgage rates could slow the housing recovery. Still, rates remain low by historical standards and any increases may push some buyers into the market before rates rise further.

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