The government agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac today reported that U.S. home prices slid 4.6 percent in April compared to the same month one year ago. However, that downward slide paled in comparison to today's results from the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index, which reported that home prices tumbled more than 15 percent in 20 major markets across the country.

Why do the two indices offer such different pictures of the housing market? They rely on different information. The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight's (OFHEO) home price index relies upon home purchases and refinancings using Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgages across the country; the S&P/Case-Shiller researchers look at specific markets, gather data from local government offices, and use only purchase prices in their calculations.

"Due to the broader geographic reach and narrower range of financing types than other house price indexes, the HPI's fall has been comparatively muted," said James B. Lockhart, director of the federal agency.

Regionally, the Pacific (which includes Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California) suffered the most, with a 15 percent annual decline according to OFHEO. In contrast, West South Central (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana) saw home prices in their region increase by 1.9 percent during the last 12 months.

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