Housing prices continued to fall in the latest reading on the battered real estate market released Tuesday from an industry trade group.
The median price of an existing home sold in January was down 3.1 percent from a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors.
It marked the sixth straight month that prices have shown that year-over-year drop, a relatively rare condition for home prices before the current slide. Before the Realtor’s price readings showed a year-over-year drop for August sales, it had gone more than 11 years without that kind of drop.
The median price, the price at which half the homes sell for more and half sell for less, is now down 8.5 percent from the record high reached in July 2006. And the three biggest year-over-year declines on record have now been recorded in the last four months, with January’s decline just behind the 4.4 percent drop in October and a 3.4 percent fall in November.
U.S. home prices fell 0.7% in the fourth quarter, the fastest rate since 1992, and are up just 0.4% in the past year, Standard & Poor’s reported Tuesday in the inaugural release of the national Case-Shiller price index.
A year ago, home prices were rising 14.6% year-over-year.
“Annual changes in home prices are either in decline, flat or yielding negative returns across all markets,” said Robert J. Shiller, chief economist at MacroMarkets LLC, which produces the index for S&P. “All metro areas are showing smaller annual returns than those reported for November.”
“Given the overhang of supply and clear signs of deceleration in home prices, we continue to expect a nationwide home price decline of about 3% in 2007,” Goldman Sachs economists wrote in a research note. They called the Case-Shiller index “probably the highest-quality measure of home prices.”
Home prices in the top 10 metro areas fell 0.8% in December, the largest monthly drop since 1991. Prices in the 10 cities are unchanged for the year.
Home prices in the 20 metro areas fell 0.7% in December, the largest decline in the seven year history of the index. Prices in the 20 cities are up 0.5% in the past year.
On an inflation-adjusted basis, national home prices are down 1.6% in the past year. Prices in the 10 cities are down 2% and prices in the 20 cities are down 1.5%.
Nominal prices in 18 of 20 cities fell in the fourth quarter compared with the third. Only Seattle and Portland managed gains. Nine of the 20 cities showed lower prices at the end of the year than at the beginning: Detroit, Boston, San Diego, Washington, Cleveland, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Denver and New York.
Among the 20 cities, the biggest gains in the past year were in Seattle (up 12.1%), Portland (up 9.9%) and Charlotte (up 6.7%). The biggest losses in the past year were recorded in Detroit (down 5.9%), Boston (down 5.1%) and San Diego (down 4.2%.
Sales of existing U.S. homes rose 3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.46 million in January, the highest in seven months, the National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday.
It was the largest percentage gain in two years.
Sales were down 4.3% year-on-year.
Resales of single-family homes rose 3.5% to 5.69 million annualized, while condo resales fell 0.1% to 767,000 annualized.
The results were “surprisingly strong,” said David Lereah, chief economist for the real estate trade group. Lereah said he couldn’t be confident that the bottom had been reached, because unusually warm weather earlier helped to boost sales in January.
Inventories of unsold homes on the market rose 2.9% to 3.55 million, a 6.6-month supply.
The median sales price fell 3.1% year-over-year to $210,600. “The price correction is working,” Lereah said. Prices fell the most in the West, which had been the hottest region for price appreciation. Median prices are down 4.6% in the West, which could reflect slower sales in relatively high-priced California and faster sales in cheaper areas such as Utah, Idaho and New Mexico.