Housing prices down for the year, up in December

Housing prices dipped in the final three months of last year while values increased slightly in December, as the sector gradually improves, a federal housing regulator reported on Thursday. 

The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) seasonally adjusted purchase-only house price index fell 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter and 2.4 percent in year-over-year figures. 

In December, the index increased 0.7 percent from November, the data show. 

In the October-December quarter, prices increased in 27 states and the District of Columbia, and for the year, prices were up in 12 states and D.C., reflecting the strengthening housing sector. 

"When coupled with the fact that about half of all U.S. states saw price increases in the latest quarter, this growth adds to mounting evidence that real estate markets are seeing at least some signs of life," said Andrew Leventis, FHFA's principal economist. 

In a separate report on Wednesday, the national median existing-home price was $154,700 in January, down 2 percent from a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors. 

A glut of distressed housing — foreclosures and short sales that sell at deep discounts — are keeping prices down. 

FHFA’s expanded-data house price index, which was introduced in August and adds transactions from county offices and the Federal Housing Administration, fell 0.8 percent over the latest quarter. During the latest four quarters, the index is down 2.9 percent. 

Of the nine regions, the West-South-Central Division experienced the strongest prices in the latest quarter, posting a 1.1 percent price increase. Prices were weakest in the Middle-Atlantic Division, where prices fell 1.2 percent.

FHFA’s purchase-only and all-transactions index track average house price changes in repeat sales or refinancings on the same single-family properties.

The purchase-only index is based on more than 6 million repeat sales transactions, while the all-transactions index includes more than 44 million repeat transactions. The indexes are based on data obtained from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for mortgages originated over the past 37 years.