All available tea leaves indicated that the American housing market is beginning to regain its mojo after years of significant declines.

Like nearly all Americans, we are relieved and pleased by that news. But please pardon us if our excitement is tempered by our understanding of not-too-distant history.

The crash of the American real estate markets was a significant player -- some would argue the primary driver -- in the Great Recession of 2008 that helped trigger chaos not only in the U.S. markets, but markets around the world. As anyone who has followed the story knows, that collapse in housing was caused in large measure by a subprime mortgage house of cards that was out of control because of a lack of proper oversight.

In this Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 photo, a sign hangs in North Andover, Mass., where a house is under construction. Sales of new U.S. homes cooled off in
In this Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 photo, a sign hangs in North Andover, Mass., where a house is under construction. Sales of new U.S. homes cooled off in December compared with November, but sales for the entire year were the best since 2009. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

There were plenty of fingers to point. Government failed us. Markets failed us. Our own irrational expectations and greed also failed us.

Many of the horrific, abusive and even fraudulent lending practices that led to the collapse have been exposed. In fact, some of them are revealed in the excellent book "The Big Short" by Michael Lewis, among others. Yes, the same Harvard-educated, Berkeley author who wrote "Moneyball" and "The Blind Side."

Along with his first book -- "Liar's Poker" -- Lewis lays bare the deceptive and downright scary Wall Street practices that have surrounded the home-loan industry for at least two decades.

We are grateful for that inside knowledge. While it appears that the housing market could surge in 2013, it is absolutely vital that the country not forget the lessons learned in the last five years. Things like: requiring adequate income is good; ridiculous balloon payments are bad.

Right now, the home inventory for sale nationwide is at its lowest level since well before the recession began. Quite naturally that tight inventory has sparked bidding competitions for available properties.

We remember well the salad days when such bidding was the norm here in the East Bay and those of us who are ready to sell now hope for a return to those days.

But we should be careful what we wish for and very careful about how we read the situation.

Yes, inventory is tight, the volume of activity is the highest since 2007, prices have risen for 10 straight months, interest rates remain historically low and builders have broken ground on more new home projects than at any time in the last four years.

Those are all good signs of a real estate revival.

However, it also is vital to understand that the Federal Reserve likely will allow interest rates to rise soon, that 11 million homeowners remain under water, that prices are far below their 2006 peak and that there was a larger-than-anticipated drop in the pace of home sales last month. All or any of those factors could serve to modulate any real estate recovery.

We realize that a real estate recovery contributes mightily to the gross domestic product by helping produce jobs, both directly and indirectly. We want to see that happen, but we also believe the nation must proceed prudently in its pursuit of recovery.