As much of the industry speculates as to whether or not a housing double dip will occur, has occurred, or is now occurring, the people at Standard & Poor’s have weighed in with a definition of what exactly a double dip is. And according to existing, single-family home price data released today in the latest S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, we’re moving toward it.

“We defined a double dip for home prices as seeing the 10- and 20-city composites set new post peak lows,” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor’s. “The 10-city composite is still 2.8% above and the 20-city is 1.1% above their respective April 2009 lows, but both series have moved closer to a confirmed double dip for six consecutive months. At this point we are not too far off, and that is what many analysts are seeing with sales, starts, and inventory data too.”

Pricing is dire in metro areas across the nation. While the composite indices remain above S&P’s double-dip standard, each moved downward on both a monthly and yearly basis—the 10-city composite falling 0.9% from December and 2.0% from the year before; and the 20-city composite posting declines of 1.0% from December and 3.1% from January 2010.

Eleven metro areas—Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, Miami, Fla., New York, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., Seattle, and Tampa, Fla.—have already reached S&P’s double-dip criteria after recording cyclical index lows in January. Eight more of the 20 largest metro areas moved downward during the month, with Minneapolis reporting the greatest monthly loss (down 3.4%) and Phoenix claiming the largest decline year-over-year (down 9.1%).

As the only metro area to post monthly and yearly gains, Washington, D.C., seems furthest from double-dip fears among MSAs. The nation’s capital had the only increase from December among the top 20—a small 0.1% gain—and recorded the strongest performance by far compared to last year, gaining 3.6% from January 2010. San Diego was the only other top-20 metro area to post a year-over-year increase, moving up only 0.1%.

Based on S&P’s definition, “the double dip should happen by June,” predicted Patrick Newport, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, in a release discussing the latest S&P numbers. “The indices in most cities appear to be coasting toward a bottom.”

As foreclosures, heavy inventories, and weak demand have pushed existing-home prices downward, new-home builders are struggling to stay competitive. With February’s median price for a new home 29.5% higher than that month’s median price for an existing home, more buyers looked for bargains among used stock in February—allowing distressed properties to capture 39% of existing-home sales.

Wayne Yamano, vice president at John Burns Real Estate Consulting, reports that many builders are feeling the need to “make some concessions on price in order to move homes.”  

He also points a cautionary finger at the pent-up supply of foreclosures he anticipates banks unleashing toward the end of this year as concerns over robo-signing and proper paperwork procedures are worked out. “We still have a lot of significant headwinds that we’re facing.”

Claire Easley is senior editor, online, at Builder.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC, Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN, Atlanta, GA, Chicago, IL, Charlotte, NC, Detroit, MI, Las Vegas, NV, Merced, CA, New York, NY, Phoenix, AZ, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Tampa, FL, Greenville, SC.