While national home prices slightly dipped 0.4% in Q409 compared to Q408, four of the nine Census Bureau regions experienced price gains, a sign of overall steadiness in the market, according to Freddie Mac’s (FRE) conventional mortgage home price index (HPI). The quarter-over-quarter decline in 2009 was better than the 9.5% drop between Q408 and Q407. Compared to Q309, prices were down 1.4% in Q409. The index is a gauge of home prices based on conventional purchase mortgages and excludes refinance loans. Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft said typically prices will decline in the fourth quarter because of seasonal impacts, but those were lessened this year. “Mortgage rates on 30-year fixed-rate loans hit an all-time low in Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey in December and averaged 4.9% over the fourth quarter. Low rates coupled with the first-time homebuyer tax credit helped boost home sales to their highest level in two-and-a-half years, seasonally adjusted,” Nothaft said. Regionally, the Pacific Census Bureau region had the greatest quarter-over-quarter increase at 1.6%, followed by increases in the West South Central (1.5%), West North Central (1.1%) and the East South Central (0.8%) regions. The New England and Middle Atlantic had the smallest quarter-over-quarter declines, both at 0.1%, followed by declines in the East North Central (0.9%), South Atlantic (1.8%) and Mountain (7%). Freddie Mac also produces a “Classic Series” HPI that includes data from both home purchase transactions and mortgage refinancings, with refinance loan values determined by appraisals. In that index, prices declined 4.3% in Q409 compared to Q408, but only 0.7% compared to Q309. Since appraisals are backwards looking and rely on previous comparable sales to determine value, Freddie Mac said the Classic Series HPI typically lags changes in the purchase-only index. No region in the Classic Series HPI posted a quarter-over-quarter gain. The biggest drop was in the Mountain division, which experienced an 8.1% decrease from Q408 to Q409, followed by declines of 5.5% in both the South Atlantic and Pacific regions, and drops in the East North Central (4.1%), Middle Atlantic (3.8%), New England (3.7%), West North Central (3.2%), East South Central (2%) and West South Central (0.3%) divisions. Write to Austin Kilgore. The author held no relevant investments.