If there was any good news in the report from the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices Tuesday, it was that another bottom appears to be approaching. Since the indices lag real time by nearly two months, that bottom may already be here.
Home prices continued down the second leg of a double dip in December, with the 10-City Composite Index down 0.9% from November and the 20-City Index down 1%. Compared to December, 2009, the indices were down 1.2% and 2.4% respectively.
The National Home Price Index, which covers all nine Census regions, was down 4.1% for the fourth quarter of 2010 compared to the prior year quarter and within one percentage point of its low in first quarter, 2009.
Only Washington D.C., where the increasing size of the federal government has buoyed home sales and prices, posted a sequential gain from November, albeit an anemic 0.3% to an index of 186.18. All 19 others were down, with only Washington and San Diego showing year-over-year gains of 4.1% and 1.7%, respectively.
Atlanta, Cleveland and Las Vegas for the first time joined Detroit as the only cities where home values have slid beneath January, 2000 levels.Atlanta, with an index of 99.92, was off 0.9% in December and is down 8% from December, 2009. Cleveland, at 99.73, was down 1.4% and 7.4% respectively. Las Vegas, at 99.48, fell 1.1% and 4.7%.
Phoenix is next on the list to fall below January 2000 with an index of 103.10 and declines of 1.7% sequentially and 8.3% year-over-year. Detroit, at 65.93, dropped another 2.3% from November and lost 9.1% of home value since December, 2009.
Other markets that have held up relatively well include Los Angeles, at 170.99, down 1.3% from November and 0.2% below December the prior year; New York, at 167.86, down 0.9% and 2.3%, respectively; San Diego, at 158.97, down 0.7% but still up 1.7% from a year earlier; and Boston, at 152.54, down 0.1% and 0.8%.
In Florida, Miami posted a 143.11, down 0.5% sequentially and down 3.7% year-over-year. Tampa, at 130.23, was down 2.6% and down 6.2%. In North Carolina, Charlotte came in at 112.59, down 0.7% from November and down 4.4% from December a year earlier.
On the West Coast, San Francisco, at 135.85, dropped 1% and 0.4%; Seattle, at 138.70, fell 2% and 6%; and Portland, at 138.23, dropped 1.2% month-to-month and 7.8% year-over-year. A bit further east, Denver posted an index of 124.10, down 0.7% and 2.4%; and Dallas, at 114.61, was down 0.2% and 3.6%.
In the Midwest, Chicago, at 117.86, was down 1.4% and 7.4% and Minneapolis, at 117.09, was down 1.3% and down 5.3%.
"Despite improvements in the overall economy, housing continues to drift lower and weaker," said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P. "Unlike the 2006 to 2009 period when all cities saw prices move together, we see some differing stories around the country. California is doing better with gains from their low points in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. At the other end is the Sun Belt -- Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix and Tampa. All four made new lows in December."
He continued, "Also seeing renewed weakness are some cities that were among the last to reach their peaks including Atlanta, Charlotte, Portland and Seattle, where new lows were also seen. Dallas, which peaked late, has so far stayed above its low marked in February 2009."
Carl Reichardt, home building analyst at Wells Fargo Securities, was guarded in his view of the increase. "While the pace of existing home sales is encouraging, demonstrating a sharp increase off of the depressed post-tax credit lows in July, we believe existing home sales are still searching for a natural supply/demand equilibrium whereby sales are driven by "real" buyers purchasing a home as a medium/long term source of shelter. Currently, sales are skewed with investors compromising 23% of sales (vs. 20% last month and 17% a year ago). All-cash sales were 32% of all sales, the highest level since the NAR began tracking the data in October 2008 and distressed sales are still elevated, compromising 37% of sales in January. While mix accounts for some of the decline, the median sales price in January was the lowest its been since April 2002. We view all of these 'atypical' factors as healthy and necessary forces to bring supply and demand back into equilibrium, but do not believe the gains seen in existing home sales are indicative of true demand for housing."
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.