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Light at the End of the Tunnel? U.S. Home Prices Rise for First time in 12 Months

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RISMEDIA, March 25, 2009-U.S. home prices rose for the first time in 12 months, showing an increase of 1.7% on a seasonally-adjusted basis from December to January, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) monthly House Price Index. December’s previously reported 0.1% increase was revised to a 0.2% decline, and for the 12 months ending in January, U.S. prices fell 6.3%, and the U.S. index is 9.6% below its April 2007 peak.

The FHFA monthly index is calculated using purchase prices of houses backing mortgages that have been sold to or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

For the nine Census Divisions, seasonally-adjusted monthly price changes from December to January ranged from -0.9% in the Pacific Division to +3.9% in the East North Central Division.

Month-to-month changes in the geographic mix of sales activity explain most of the unexpected rise in prices in January. The January home sales reflected in the FHFA data disproportionately occurred in areas with the strongest markets.

While it is difficult to perfectly control for changing geographic mix in estimating house price indexes, the data suggest that if one were to remove those effects, the change in home prices in January, while still positive, would have been far less dramatic.

It also should be noted that sales volumes, in absolute terms, were relatively low in the month. Accordingly, the estimation imprecision associated with the January estimate is relatively large and subsequent revisions to the monthly figure could be significant.

For more information, visit http://www.fhfa.gov/.

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