Home Prices Posted Best Gain in 7 Years in January

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By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER

U.S. home prices jumped in January, a sign the housing market is gaining momentum as it nears the spring selling season. Home prices rose 9.7 percent in January from a year ago, according to data released Tuesday by CoreLogic. That's up from an 8.3 percent increase in December and the biggest annual gain since April 2006.

Prices rose in all states except Delaware and Illinois. And prices increased in 92 of the 100 largest metro areas, up from 87 in December. Home prices also rose 0.7 percent in January from December. That's a solid increase given that sales usually slow over the winter months. Rising demand combined with fewer available homes is pushing up prices (even for discounted foreclosures). Sales of previously owned homes ticked up in January after rising to their highest level in five years in 2012, according to the National Association of Realtors. At the same time, inventories of homes for sale fell to a 13-year low.

The states with the biggest price gains were Arizona, where prices rose 20.1 percent, followed by Nevada, with 17.4 percent, and Idaho, with 14.9 percent. California and Hawaii rose 14.1 percent and 14 percent, respectively. The cities with the biggest gains were Phoenix, Los Angeles, Riverside, Calif., New York, and Atlanta. Nationwide, home values were still down more than 26 percent from their peak in April 2006 through January, CoreLogic said. But in some states prices have recovered a lot of lost ground. In 15 states, home prices are within 10 percent of their peak values, CoreLogic said.

There have been other recent signs that the housing market is going strong. A measure of the number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes rose in January from December to the highest level in more than 2 ½ years. That suggests sales of previously occupied homes will keep rising in the coming months. Steady increases in prices help fuel the housing recovery. They encourage some homeowners to sell homes and entice some would-be buyers to purchase homes before prices rise further. Higher prices can also make homeowners feel wealthier. That can encourage more consumer spending, which drives 70 percent of the U.S. economy.

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