The housing market got another small piece of good news today from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which reported that home prices rose slightly (1.7%) in January compared to the previous month.

But the agency cautioned housing industry watchers not to make too much of these January numbers, which also indicate that home prices remain 6.3% below where they were one year ago, in 2008.

“Month-to-month changes in the geographic mix of sales activity explain most of the unexpected rise in prices in January. The January home sales reflected in the FHFA data disproportionately occurred in areas with the strongest markets,” the agency said in a statement. “While it is difficult to perfectly control for changing geographic mix in estimating house price indexes, the data suggest that if one were to remove those effects, the change in home prices in January, while still positive, would have been far less dramatic. It also should be noted that sales volumes, in absolute terms, were relatively low in the month. Accordingly, the estimation imprecision associated with the January estimate is relatively large and subsequent revisions to the monthly figure could be significant.”

Seven of nine Census regions recorded positive monthly home price gains in January, with the largest  increases of 3.9% in East North Central (Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio) and 3.6% in the South Atlantic, which includes Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

New England, which includes Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, had the third-strongest monthly performance, with a 2.0% jump.

West South Central (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana) remained level, and only the Pacific (Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California) reported a decline, of 0.9%.

On an annual basis, though, home prices are down in every region of the country, from the Pacific (-21.1%) to West South Central, which posted a 0.4% loss.

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

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC, Providence, RI.