Home Prices See Steepest Drop in 20 Years

NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. home prices dropped at the sharpest rate in two decades during the first quarter, a closely watched index showed Tuesday, a somber indication that the housing slump continues to deepen.

Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller said its national home price index fell 14.1 percent in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, the lowest since its inception in 1988. The quarterly index covers all nine U.S. Census divisions.

Prices nationwide are at levels not seen since the third quarter of 2004, according to Maureen Maitland, a S&P vice president. However, the index is still up 60 percent versus 2000.

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The narrower indices also set record declines in the first quarter. The 20-city index tumbled 14.4 percent, the lowest since that index was started in 2001. The 10-city index plunged 15.3 percent, a record in its 20-year history.

"There are very few silver linings that one can see in the data. Most of the nation appears to remain on a downward path," said David Blitzer, chairman of S&P's index committee.

Nineteen of the 20 metro areas reported annual declines, with 15 of them posting record lows. Six metro areas lost more than 20 percent.

Las Vegas had the worst quarterly performance, falling 25.9 percent, followed by Miami and Phoenix. Only Charlotte, North Carolina, stayed above water, gaining less than 1 percent over the previous year.

Last week, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight said home prices fell 3.1 percent in the first quarter, the largest drop in its 17-year history and only the second quarter of price declines recorded.

The OFHEO index is narrower in scope and is calculated using mortgages of $417,000 (euro264,594) or less that are bought or backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. That excludes properties bought with some of the riskier types of home loans.

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