For 12 months in a row, housing prices, as measured by the Case Shiller Index, have increased, and in January they were a whopping 8% higher year-over-year (see chart). That's the biggest year-over-year increase since housing's mid-summer 2006 heyday. The price improvement is widespread: all 20 cities tracked by the index--even Detroit!--posted year-over-year housing price increases.

Across the board housing price increases are important, analysts says, because when potential home buyers see prices increasing they're convinced they'll keep doing so, and this in turn increases demand for housing. Analysts are also saying that prices are likely to continue to rise because housing inventories are depleted and mortgage credit is becoming relatively more available.

While prices have improved, they're only back to 2003 levels and are still some 25% below the 2006 peak. But when it comes to housing prices, up is better than down.