Housing prices withered on the vine during the first quarter of 2009, despite signs of the first "green shoots" of recovery elsewhere in the moribund U.S. economy.
The price of homes sold in the first quarter fell 13.8 percent when compared with the first quarter of 2008, according to the National Association of Realtors quarterly survey. It was the largest year-over-year drop in the survey's history and marked the 11th straight quarter sales prices have fallen.
Of the 152 metro areas surveyed, 134 -- or 88 percent -- registered year-over-year price declines. Price gains were limited to just 18 metro areas.
The national median existing single-family home price now stands at $169,000.
Foreclosures and short sales accounted for nearly half of all transactions in the first quarter, a trend that pushed prices lower. Such homes typically fetch prices about 20 percent lower than traditional sales, according to the NAR.
For the second straight quarter, the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area of southwest Florida recorded the biggest slump, plummeting 59.1 percent. Since 2006, median prices in the region have cratered, falling from $268,200 to $87,300.
Other major decliners in the first quarter included Saginaw-Saginaw Township North, Mich. (-53.7 percent); Akron, Ohio (-48 percent); San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif. (-42.7 percent); San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. (-42.3 percent); Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz. (-41.9 percent) and Sarasota, Bradenton-Venice, Fla. (-40.8 percent).
Regionally, price drops were sharpest in the West (-19.8 percent), followed by the Northeast (-15.9 percent), the South (-10.8 percent) and the Midwest (-6.8 percent).
Fifteen U.S. metro areas recorded year-over-year price declines of at least 30 percent in the first quarter of 2009.
The minus-30 club
- Cape Coral-Ft. Myers, Fla., down 59.1 percent, to $87,300.
- Saginaw-Saginaw Township North, Mich., down 53.7 percent, to $30,300.
- Akron, Ohio, down 48 percent, to $50,100.
- San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif., down 42.7 percent, to $402,000.
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., down 42.3 percent, to $450,000.
- Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz., down 41.9 percent, to $129,200.
- Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice, Fla., down 40.8 percent, to $155,200.
- Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif., down 39.9 percent, to $172,500.
- Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., down 37.3 percent, to $155,300.
- Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach, Fla., down 35.4 percent, to $206,000.
- Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville, Calif., down 34.5 percent, to $169,300.
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif., down 34.1 percent, to $303,500.
- Orlando, Fla., down 33.3 percent, to $154,800.
- Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, Ohio, down 31.5 percent, to $69,900.
- Grand Rapids, Mich., down 30 percent, to $72,000.
The Cumberland area of Maryland and West Virginia led the way among the 18 markets registering price increases. Prices in the region rose by 21.1 percent, to $114,900.
Other markets showing increases include Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, Iowa-Ill. (13.8 percent, to $100,300); Columbia, Mo. (6 percent, to $152,600); Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas (5 percent, to $129,100); Oklahoma City (4 percent, to $129,900); and Springfield, Ill. (3.9 percent, to $111,400).
Rising salesDespite falling prices, there were some hopeful signs in the data.
Home sales increased dramatically in some markets during the first quarter, especially in states where foreclosures are pervasive and prices have declined most sharply during the housing downturn.
Overall, six states recorded year over year sales increases in the first three months of 2009. Nevada saw a whopping 116.8 percent surge in transactions. Other gainers were California (80.6 percent), Arizona (50.2 percent), Florida (25 percent), Virginia (12.2 percent) and Minnesota (11.9 percent).
Increasing affordability helped pull first-time homebuyers off the sidelines and into the market in those states, according to the NAR, which said first-time homebuyers accounted for half of all U.S. home sales during the first quarter.
First-quarter sales do not yet reflect the potential sales impact of the federal government's new $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers, according to the NAR.
In a prepared statement, Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said contract activity and buyer traffic have increased over the past couple of months, a trend he expects will continue.
"Housing affordability conditions are at record high levels, and we expect a measurable increase in home sales during the second half of the year, which would help stabilize prices in most areas," Yun said.
How did home values fare in your area? See our state-by-state map.