By Wendy Leibowitz. A first-quarter home price report by the National Association of Realtors showed that most metro areas experienced above-average appreciation in median existing-home prices. The report, covering 117 metropolitan statistical areas, shows 31 areas with double-digit annual increases and only seven areas posting small declines. Of the markets covered, 72 increased more than two percentage points above the rate of inflation, which is the high end of normal price appreciation.

Nationally, the median existing-home price was $161,500 during the first quarter of 2003; that's a 7.0 percent increase over the first quarter of 2002, when the median price was $151,000.

David Lereah, NAR's chief economist, believes home prices gains should gradually ease. "Overall, home prices should rise 5.1 percent in 2003," he said.

Regionally, the strongest median existing-home price increase was in the Northeast, reaching $178,500, a 16.7 percent jump from the year before. In the West, the median existing-home price was $217,200, up 8.0 percent from first quarter 2002. In the South, prices increased 7.5 percent to $152,200. And in the Midwest, median existing-home prices reached $134,700, 4.1 percent higher than the same period of 2002.

If first quarter reports are a sign of what 2003 has in stock for the housing industry, it's going to be a good year.

Metro Markets:The Strong andThe Weak
Metro Area
1ST Q 2002
1ST Q 2003*
% Change
1. Philadelphia, Pa. 122.0 153.4 25.7
—Providence, R.I. 169.6 213.2 25.7
3. Melbourne/Palm Bay, Fla. 99.6 124.9 25.4
4. Sacramento, Calif. 183.6 230.0 25.3
5. Trenton, N.J. 154.6 191.7 24.0
6. Monmouth/Ocean, N.J. 219.1 270.4 23.4
7. New Haven/Meriden, Conn. 173.5 211.4 21.8
8. Bergen/Passaic, N.J. 295.8 358.3 21.1
9. Anaheim/Santa Ana, Calif. 372.0 448.4 20.5
10. Riverside/San Bernardino, Calif. 164.7 194.8 18.3
1. Chattanooga, Tenn. 111.9 107.0 -4.4
2. Austin/St. Marcos, Texas 157.7 151.7 -3.8
3. Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Iowa 83.5 80.7 -3.4
4. Montgomery, Ala. 108.5 106.7 -1.7
5. Tallahassee, Fla. 133.1 131.0 -1.6
6. South Bend/Mishawaka, Ind. 84.3 83.8 -0.6
7. Indianapolis, Ind. 111.9 111.7 -0.2
* Preliminary
Numbers in thousands; Source: NAR
Market Watch: Nationally, the Northeast showed the strongest price increases; median price was $178,500, a 16.7 percent increase from the first quarter of 2002. Philadelphia, Pa., led the pack with a 25.7 percent increase; Chattanooga, Tenn., showed the biggest decrease, -4.4 percent.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.