The latest data from two leading barometers of existing home prices seem to indicate  that prices are no longer falling.

The Standard & Poor Case-Shiller home price index, which incorporates value data on all homes sold (including those with jumbo loans) in 20 major housing markets around the country, stood at a reading of 146.51 in September, a 0.3% gain over the previous month and the fourth consecutive monthly jump.

Half of the 20 markets tracked by Case-Shiller showed month-to-month gains in September, led by Detroit and Minneapolis, whose indices rose 1.8% to, respectively,  readings of 72.90 and 124.96. (Detroit prices, though, remain 73% below 2000 values.) Cleveland incurred the biggest monthly falloff in September, sliding 1.6% to an index level of 105.75. 

Overall, the Case-Shiller index was down 9.4% from September 2008, and all 20 markets had year-to-year declines of varying degrees, the smallest being in Dallas and Denver, at 1.2% to, respectively, readings of 120.57 and 129.45. The index for Las Vegas had the biggest year-to-year drop, falling 28.6% to 104.82.

However, the Case-Shiller index did manage to report its second-consecutive quarterly increase. For the three months ended in September, it hit 137.19, which is 3.1% better than the second quarter of 2009, and a marked improvement over the previous two quarters, which showed double-digit sequential declines. The third quarter, though, was still 8.9% below the same period a year ago.

“We have seen broad improvement in home prices for most of the past six months,” says David M. Blitzer, chairman of S&P’s index committee. “However, the gains in the most recent month are more modest than during the seasonally strong summer months.”

In additional home value news, the Federal Finance Housing Agency (FHFA) reported this morning that its home price index, which tracks price changes in homes with loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac in 50 states, rested at 198.9 in September, flat with the August index. The Pacific, West North Central, New England and South Atlantic regions showed month-to-month increases. The biggest monthly falloff was 2.1% in the East South Central region.

FHFA’s index was down 3% from a year ago, with all regions of the country showing declines, the steepest of which being in the Pacific, 5.2%; and the Middle Atlantic, 4.4%. IN terms of metro markets, Corpus Christi, Texas, showed the strongest year-over-year home price appreciation, at 5.51%, and Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., reported the steepest decline in its index, at 22.46%.

In the third quarter, FHFA’s index rose marginally, by 0.2%, but was off by 3.8% over the same period a year ago. Seasonally adjusted, purchase-only indexes indicate that prices increased in the latest quarter in 19 states and Washington, D.C. Prices rose over the latest four quarters in only seven states. Edward DeMarco, FHFA’s acting director, concluded from these results that it might be too early to call a sustained improvement in home prices just yet. “Given the headwinds facing markets, including high unemployment rates and continued high levels of delinquency and foreclosures, the longer-term view remains uncertain," he said.

The two indices’ incremental improvements were in line with last week’s report by MDA DataQuick, a real estate research firm based in San Diego, which found that the 7.6% decline, to $257,000, in median home prices in California from October 2008 through October 2009 was the narrowest year-to-year erosion since September 2007.

 John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.