Spring buying boosts U.S. home prices

By Derek Kravitz/The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The depressed housing market flashed a positive signal in July, with home prices in most major U.S. cities rising for the fourth straight month.
The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index released Tuesday showed that prices rose from June to July in 17 of the 20 cities the index tracks. Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis posted the biggest percentage gains. Prices fell in two cities among those hit hardest by the housing crisis – Las Vegas and Phoenix.
The index, which covers half of all U.S. homes, measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The July data are the latest available.
Analysts cautioned that the price increases are likely temporary, buoyed by seasonal buying, and not evidence of a housing recovery. Home sales have declined in each of the months in which prices rose.
Prices are expected to drop again this fall and winter, based on the poor sales and on expectations that banks will resume processing a raft of foreclosures that have been in limbo.
“This is still a seasonal period of stronger demand for houses, so monthly price increases are expected,” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of S&P’s index committee. “While we have now seen four consecutive months of generally increasing prices, we do know that we are still far from a sustained recovery.”
Previously occupied homes are selling only slightly faster than last year, when sales were the lowest since 1997. New-home sales dropped in August for a fourth straight month. This year is shaping up to be the worst for sales of new homes since record-keeping began in 1963.
And prices are certain to fall further once banks resume millions of foreclosures that have been delayed because of a 10-month government investigation into mortgage lending practices.
“This effect (of spring buying) will fade soon because sales have dropped back in recent months,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics. “We expect to see price declines again by the autumn, but we do not anticipate a renewed collapse” in the housing market.