Lenders and real estate agents applauded two reports last week that showed continued improvement in the residential market.

The good news was contained in quarterly reports issued by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation as well as by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The FDIC even found some improvement in the commercial real estate market.

"I think the torch is being passed from interest rates to general economic growth to produce an improvement in the residential market," said John A. Tuccillo, chief economist for the National Association to Realtors.

Kevin J. McCullaugh, chairman of the American Bankers Association Real Estate Committee and senior vice president of Mellon Bank NA, said he now enjoys "a degree of cautious optimism."

The FDIC survey reported strenghtened residential and commercial real estate markets, and the MBA said there has been a continued decline in residential delinquency rates.

The FDIC survey revealed:

* Overall assessments of recent real estate trends were more positive in May, pushing the composite index of survey results to a new high of 72. However, many markets still are plagued by excess supply.

* Assessments of housing ,market developments improved in all regions, and a much smaller proportion reported excess supply in their local housing market.

* Respondents also were more positive about commercial real estate developments, with 31% reporting improvements and only 13% reporting a decline.

* In the Northeast, positive evaluations of commercial real estate trends outweighed negative ones for the first time since the survey began a year ago.

The survey is based on nationwide interviews with 500 senior examiners and liquidation specialists at federal regulatory agencies. The polling was done during the first two weeks of May and represents trends in real estate market conditions since February.

Though the news on the commercial side was less pessimistic than in the past, the situation is far from healthy. Eight-five percent of respondents believe their areas suffer from excess supply and 15% reported more frequent rent concessions in May than in February. Only 10% reported increased demand for new office space and 20% reported continued weakening.

The MBA reported that seasonally adjusted delinquency rates fell for the third straight quarter and attributed the trend to an improved economy and lower housing prices. The MM said 4.52% of mortgages for one- to four-family homes were delinquent at the end of the first quarter, a drop of 26 basis points since the last quarter of 1991 and the lowest rate since the second quarter of 1990.

The most improvement came in the least-serious category of delinquency-loans due for 30 days or less. These delinquencies dropped by 18 basis points in the period. Loans past due for 60 days were down by six basis points to .7%. and the rate of loans delinquent for 90 days or more were down two basis points to .78%. Loan entering foreclosure fell to 0.31%, down four basis points.

All mortgage types showed improvement with the biggest decreases coming in the government-insured categories. Rates for Federal Housing Administration-insured loans dropped 41 basis points to 6.69% and FHA loans entering foreclosure dropped to 0.4%, the lowest since the fourth quarter of 1989.

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