Home Prices Accelerate Downward Slide in March

The pace of dropping U.S. property values quickened during March, reaching a record 14.1 percent decline during the first quarter of 2008, according to data released by Standard & Poor’s on Tuesday morning. The record drop was recorded by the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which covers sales spanning all nine census divisions for the past 20 years. The widely-watched S&P/Case-Shiller indices also all posted significant drops, with a 20-City composite index dropping 14.4 percent annually; a 10-City composite index fell 15.3 percent versus year-ago home prices, underscoring just how painful the drop has been for many local housing markets. All declines represent records, S&P said. “The steep downturn in residential real estate continues,” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at Standard & Poor’s. “There are very few silver linings that one can see in the data.” No kidding. Nineteen of 20 metro areas tracked by the monthly Case-Shiller index are now reporting annual declines — and six even posted negative annual pricing rates in excess of 20 percent. The hardest hit areas likely won’t surprise: Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco all posted annual housing price declines greater than 20 percent.

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“Looking closely at these returns, you can see that 15 of the metro areas are also reporting record lows, and eleven are in double digit decline, with Chicago being the latest metro area to join these ranks,” Blitzer said. “The monthly data paints a similar picture, with 18 of the metro areas reporting at least seven consecutive months of negative returns.” The Case-Shiller data contrasts sharply with the results of a separate housing price index maintained by the Office of Housing Enterprise Oversight; the most recent OFHEO HPI data found that home prices fell a comparatively more muted 1.7 percent between Q4 2007 and the first quarter of this year — still a record by that measure’s own yardstick. The OFHEO data, while more geographically diverse, only considers properties mortgage with a conforming mortgage owned by either of the GSEs. Despite the gloom and doom of the S&P report, two local housing markets managed to show at least some strength during the month of March: Charlotte eked out a 0.2 percentage gain in prices, while prices in Dallas rebounded 1.1 percent in March compared to February. Numerous markets in Texas are regularly cited by housing experts as among the nation’s best during the ongoing slump, as many were bypassed during the recent housing boom and labor markets in Texas have remained strong amid the latest energy boom. Nonetheless, in March, half of the MSAs and both composites fell by more than 2 percent relative to February. Miami was the worst performer, returning -4.5 percent. For more information, visit http://www.standardandpoors.com.

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