If you're shopping for an inexpensive house, explore the western shore of Lake Erie.
The least expensive housing market at the beginning of 2012 was metro Detroit, followed by nearby Toledo, Ohio, according to the National Association of Realtors in its quarterly survey of median home prices. The third-cheapest market was Lansing-East Lansing, Mich., about a 90-minute drive west of Detroit.
In the first quarter of this year, half of the houses sold in the Detroit area went for less than $52,300, according to the NAR. That's the median price. The association didn't have median-price data for Detroit from a year earlier. It's hard to imagine that they went up, though.
|Kingston, N.Y.||-22 percent|
|Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn.||-18 percent|
|Mobile, Ala.||-14.7 percent|
|Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga.||-12 percent|
|Rockford, Ill.||-11.7 percent|
|Reno-Sparks, Nev.||-11.1 percent|
|Jacksonville, Fla.||-10.7 percent|
|Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, Fla.||-10.6 percent|
|Salem, Ore.||-10.6 percent|
|Newark-Union, N.J.-Pa.||-9.6 percent|
In Toledo, the median price was $63,400 in the first quarter of this year, down 2.3 percent from the same period in 2011. In the Lansing area, the median home price was $65,500 in the first three months of 2012, and that was 6.2 percent higher than the median price a year earlier.
Judging by the latest house-price data from the NAR, you can't make many firm conclusions about home values. Year-over-year median prices were up in about half the housing markets and down in the other half. And in a lot of places, the changes weren't big, either up or down.
The NAR surveys 161 housing markets, and had year-over-year data for 146. Fifteen markets, including Detroit, had incomplete data.
|Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.||28.1 percent|
|Grand Rapids, Mich.||19 percent|
|Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Fla.||16.9 percent|
|Erie, Pa.||16.6 percent|
|Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla.||16.1 percent|
|Fort Wayne, Ind.||14.8 percent|
|Peoria, Ill.||13.6 percent|
|Bismarck, N.C.||12.4 percent|
|Elmira, N.Y.||12 percent|
|Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice, Fla.||11.1 percent|
In 62 of those 146 housing markets, median prices were up or down by less than 3 percent. Of the 11 metro areas where prices rose more than 10 percent, four were in Florida. The biggest gain, percentage-wise, was in Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., where the median price rose 28.1 percent in one year, to $117,600.
Nine metro areas saw price declines of more than 10 percent, led by Kingston, N.Y., a city in the Hudson Valley where the median price fell 22 percent, to $156,800. For the nation as a whole, the median price fell 0.4 percent, to $158,100. Prices rose in 74 markets and fell in 72 markets.
"We now have broad shortages of lower-priced homes in much of the country," says Lawrence Yun, the NAR's chief economist. He adds that in the western states, there aren't many houses for sale in middle price ranges.
"This is good news for many sellers who wish to list now, or for those waiting for prices to improve," he says.
First-quarter sales were at their most brisk since 2007. Total existing-home sales, including single-family homes and condos, were at a 4.57 million annual rate in the first quarter, up 5.3 percent from the sales pace in the first quarter of 2011.
Foreclosures and short sales accounted for 32 percent of home sales in the first quarter of this year, compared to 38 percent a year earlier, according to the NAR.
The association continued to complain about the availability of mortgages. NAR president Moe Veissi said mortgage lending standards are "unnecessarily tight" but added that low house prices are making it easier for buyers to enter the market.