US home prices continue to dip in most cities
WASHINGTON - Prices of residential properties dropped in February in a majority of US cities for the sixth straight month, a sign that modest sales gains have not pushed up prices.
The Standard Poor's/Case-Shiller home-price index shows that prices dropped in February from January in 16 of the 20 cities it tracks compared with the same month in 2011. The steepest declines were in Atlanta, Chicago and Cleveland.
In Atlanta, the prices fell 17.3 per cent in February compared with a year earlier and the biggest annual drop in the history of the index for any city.
Case-Shiller study showed that prices rose in Phoenix and San Diego, and were unchanged in Dallas. Phoenix, one of the cities hit hardest by the housing bust, has seen five straight monthly gains.
The month-to-month prices are not adjusted for seasonal factors. In some cases the declines partly reflected typical offseason sales.
Home prices have fallen 35 per cent since the housing bust in 2008. The steady price declines have brought the nationwide index to its late 2002 level. Still, the housing market remains far from healthy despite the best winter for sales in five years.
The 4.63 million annual sales pace in January was the highest since May 2010, the last month buyers could qualify for a federal home-buying tax credit.
The SP/Case-Shiller monthly index covers half of all U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The February figures are the latest available.
Stan Humphries, chief economist for housing website Zillow.com, attributed the declines in part to heavy sales of foreclosed homes, which are usually sold at super-low prices. Foreclosures made up about one-fifth of February's sales.
"We think home sales will continue to trend upward, which ultimately will result in a slower rate of home-value depreciation," Humphries said.
He however cautioned that housing recovery will be dependent on job growth, which remains slow, though better than last year.
Employers added an average of 212,000 jobs a month from January through March. That helped push down the unemployment rate to 8.2 per cent from 9.1 per cent last August.
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