Home prices continue upward climb

Home prices continued to climb nationwide in March, but at a slower rate.

The value of property in 20 cities tracked by the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index was up 1.2 percent from February to March. And nationwide, home values stand 12.4 percent higher than they were a year earlier.

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However, that level of growth is slightly lower than the market experienced in previous months, suggesting that the ongoing housing recovery is losing a bit of steam. Continued tight credit standards, as well as an increase in mortgage rates could be contributing to the slowdown.

“The year-over-year changes suggest that prices are rising more slowly,” says David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Annual price increases for the two composites have slowed in the last four months and 13 cities saw annual price changes moderate in March.”

That report came the same day the Federal Housing Finance Agency released its own set of housing data, indicating that home prices rose 1.3 percent in the first quarter of the year, and 0.7 percent in March. Both sets of data came in slightly ahead of economist forecasts.

Even if the housing market is losing a bit of momentum, the growth continues to be felt nationwide. Nineteen of the 20 cities tracked by S&P/Case-Shiller reported monthly gains on home prices, with only New York reporting a decline. All 20 cities reported price gains over the last year.

But there is still room to grow following the explosion of the subprime mortgage bubble; as of March, home prices are now at levels experienced in the middle of 2004. Home prices are roughly 20 percent lower than they were at the peak of the summer of 2006.