Real estate markets continued to improve this spring, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s latest survey of examiners and liquidators.

The FDIC said its residential and commercial real estate survey for February through April yielded a composite score of 71, up three points from January. The commercial index rose three points to 74, and the residential tally increased four points to 69.

Any score above 50 means the majority of the 309 bank and thrift regulators surveyed agreed that real estate conditions were improving. The higher the score, the more regulators concurred.

"It's been pretty steady improvement since spring last year," said Virginia K. Olin, an FDIC economist. Survey responses showed "overall improvement in just about everything," she added.

However, Ricki Helfer, who stepped down Friday as FDIC chairman, sought to temper enthusiasm.

"We urge banks not to relax their credit underwriting standards based solely on reports that real estate markets are continuing to improve," Ms. Helfer cautioned.

The survey has shown the markets to be on the upswing for a year.

Nationwide, regulators reported tightening supply, increasing demand, more sales, and higher prices for commercial and residential property.

The number of respondents who reported higher demand for new office space rose for the fifth consecutive three-month period, to 40%. Only 22% indicated excess available commercial space, down from 35% a year ago.

The 19% of regulators reporting an excess supply of residential real estate hit a record low in the six years of the FDIC survey. Sales prices of existing homes rose, 54% of regulators said.

Real estate trends strengthened in all four geographic regions followed by the FDIC, but commercial property gains in the 13-state Western region were the driver, according to the survey.

The West's composite score of 81 was a survey record, thanks to a 13- point jump in its commercial score since January. Three-fourths of respondents in the West, up from half three months ago, cited gains in the Western commercial market. Reduced vacancy rates in California were a big factor, the survey said.

On the residential front, the Northeast and Midwest led the way. Half the regulators in the nine-state Northeastern region said the residential real estate market was improving, up from 38% in January. In the 12-state Midwest region, 36% were bullish, up from 26% in January.

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