Home prices rise for 5th straight month

Friday, October 28, 2011   /   by Justin Hoffmann

Home prices rise for 5th straight month

Home prices continued a winning streak in August, the fifth straight month of price gains, but remain lower on a year-over-year basis.

A gauge of home prices featuring 20 major cities, the S&P/Case Shiller index, reported Tuesday that prices rose 0.2% in August but were still down 3.8% year over year.

"Even though the [year-over-year] rates are improving, national home prices are still below where they were a year ago," said David Blitzer, a spokesman for S&P.

Overall, the market is treading water and there doesn't seem to be any reason to suspect that's going to change soon.

"As long as the economy remains weak, foreclosures are still a problem and lending standards stay stringent, we're not going to see much movement in home prices," said Mike Larson, a real estate analyst for Weiss Research.

"You just haven't gotten yet the rocket fuel needed to send housing soaring again," he said.

Among individual metro areas, Washington saw the biggest gain -- 1.6% in August. Detroit and Chicago were close behind at 1.4%. In the past 12 months, Washington prices have gone up 0.3%. In Detroit prices were up 2.4% since August 2010, more than any other area.

The Atlanta metro area recorded the steepest decline, down 2.4% for the month. Year-over-year prices were off 6.3%. Minneapolis home prices recorded the worst 12-month drop of 8.5%.

The home price report comes on the heels of changes in the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) announced Monday by the Obama administration. The changes will enable many homeowners to refinance high-interest mortgages more easily, making their monthly payments more affordable. The plan should enable some to avoid default.

Ed Mermelstein, a New York-based real estate attorney, broker and developer, doubts that the HARP changes will have much impact on home prices or sales.
"The economy and jobs have to come back. That's what's going to help the housing market," he said.

Larson pointed out that even if they work as planned, HARP's main focus is helping existing homeowners stay in their homes; it won't spur new sales.

Newport said he thinks that housing market weakness will continue improving.

How to rescue the housing market: foreclosures

"The key reason is that more distressed homes are coming onto the market and will be selling," he said. "That tends to drag home prices down."

Fiserv, which provides real estate financial analytics to industry, is projecting a further home price decline of 3.6% through the end of June 2012.

If that forecast comes true, it would mean home prices will plumb a new, post-bubble bottom over the next nine months, down 34% from the mid-2006 peak.

By Les Christie

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