The housing market sent a new set of mixed messages today, as the S&P/Case-Shiller home price indices reported today that home prices fell, but not as sharply as previous months, in February.

“For the first time in 16 months the 10-city and 20-city composite indexes did not set new records,” commented Patrick Newport, U.S. economist for IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass. “In other words, the housing prices these indexes track are no longer falling off a cliff. Instead, they are rolling down a steep hill.”

According to Case-Shiller’s 10-city composite, which includes Boston, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., home values dropped 18.8.% on an annual basis in February.

Results were almost identical for the 20-city composite, which dropped 18.6%. This group is composed of the 10 cities listed above plus Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Minneapolis, Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; Seattle, and Tampa.

“This is the third recent release indicating that house prices are getting closer to a bottom,” said Newport, alluding to statistics released this month by the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the National Association of Realtors.

But David Blitzer, chairman of Standard and Poor’s index committee, cautioned against becoming prematurely optimistic. “We will certainly need a few more months of data before we can determine if home prices are finally turning around,” he said in a statement on today’s data release.

Many markets are still dealing with significant drops in property values. The hardest hit in February were San Francisco (down 31%), Phoenix (down 35%), and Las Vegas (down 31.7%). Dallas proved to be the best-performing market, recording price drops of just 0.3% on a monthly basis in February and a dip of 4.5% annually.

Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Dallas, TX, San Francisco, CA, Las Vegas, NV, Phoenix, AZ.