Housing Prices Fell 3.9 Percent in 2011, Back to 2003 Levels

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Home prices showed little change in the third quarter nationally, edging up 0.1 percent from the prior period, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index. Overall, home prices are back to their first quarter of 2003 levels.

Economists expected little change in the data through September from the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, a widely-used measure of U.S. home prices.

The national index posted an annual decline of 3.9 percent through the third quarter of 2011, an improvement over the 5.8 percent decline posted in the second quarter.  Housing prices collapsed in most areas of the US following the financial crisis.

“Over the last year home prices in most cities drifted lower,” David Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Indices, said in a statement. “The plunging collapse of prices seen in 2007-2009 seems to be behind us. Any chance for a sustained recovery will probably need a stronger economy.”

The annual rate of change in 14 of the 20 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) and both 10-city and 20-city composite indices  improved versus August. Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Tampa recorded lower annual declines in September compared to August. Detroit and Washington DC were the only two MSAs to show positive annual rates of +3.7 percent and +1 percent, respectively. Detroit has now recorded three consecutive months of positive annual rates.

Last month, the S&P/Case-Shiller Indices showed U.S. home prices showed housing prices increased 0.2 percent in August for the 10- and 20-city composite measurements, compared with July.

In September, three cities, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix, posted new index lows.

Blitzer said “it is a bit disturbing that we saw three cities post new crisis lows.”

On a monthly basis, Atlanta actually posted a record low rate of -5.9 percent in September over August, Blitzer said.

“The markets are fairly thin, and the relative lack of closed transactions might be exacerbating the downside,” he said. “The relative good news is that 14 cities saw improvements in their annual rates of change, versus the six that weakened.”

Only New York, Portland and Washington DC showed positive monthly returns versus August.

Meanwhile mortgage rates continue to remain in their 60-year lows. Freddie Mac reported the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.98 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending Nov. 23, down from last week when it averaged 4 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.40 percent. The 15-year FRM averaged 3.30 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.31 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.77 percent.