Much like the broader economy, the housing market continues to show signs of an agonizingly slow and uneven recovery. While roughly half of the metropolitan areas in the National Association of Realtors’ quarterly survey showed price increases over the same time last year, home prices nationwide took a step back.

Overall, the median home price for a U.S. single-family home slid 0.2 percent from the third quarter of 2009, falling from $178,200 to $177,900. That fall marks a stark contrast from the second quarter, when prices nationwide rose 1.5 percent year-over-year, the first such rise in four years.

In the third quarter, the Midwest led the year-over-year decline, falling 3 percent from $150,100 to $145,600. Median home prices in the South also fell, dropping 1.9 percent from $160,000 to $157,000. The West saw prices roll back to a lesser degree, with a 0.4 percent drop from $225,600 to $224,800.

The only region that saw a year-over-year increase in value was the Northeast, where home prices rose 2.5 percent from $247,100 to $253,400. The region was led by big gains of 17.6 percent in Burlington-South Burlington, Vt., 16.9 percent in Elmira, N.Y., and 13.3 percent Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn.

Top 10 sinking markets
Ocala, Fla. -20 percent
Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Fla. -15 percent
Tucson, Ariz. -14.9 percent
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa. -14.6 percent
Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss. -14.4 percent
Boise City-Nampa, Idaho -14.1 percent
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga. -12.3 percent
Cumberland, Md.-W.Va. -12 percent
Canton-Massillon, Ohio -11 percent
Orlando, Fla. -11 percent

Further, a tentative housing recovery in some previously distressed markets appeared to lose steam, possibly due to the continuing flow of foreclosed homes into housing inventory. Overall, distressed homes accounted for 34 percent of third quarter sales, up from 30 percent a year ago, according to the NAR.

Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Fla., which had shown a 12.7 percent year-over-year, home value gain last quarter, saw a decline of 15 percent in the third quarter survey. Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville, Calif., another area hard-hit by the bursting housing bubble, had shown a year-over-year increase of 8.3 percent in the second quarter only to see a 0.9 percent decrease in the third quarter survey.

“Areas with some larger swings in home price reflect the degree of distressed sales in those markets,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.

Top 10 gaining markets
Burlington-South Burlington, Vt. 17.6 percent
Elmira, N.Y. 16.9 percent
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas 14.2 percent
Fargo, N.D.-Minn. 13.6 percent
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn. 13.3 percent
Erie, Pa. 13.2 percent
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. 13.1 percent
Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, Maine 12.0 percent
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. 11.1 percent
Shreveport-Bossier City, La. 10.7 percent

There was also some bad news for homeowners trying to sell. Home sale volume took a significant hit compared to the third quarter of last year, due in large part to the expiration of the homebuyer tax credit. Existing home sales fell 25.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.16 million.

Despite the dismal news, there were continued signs of growing stability, if not growth, in home prices. Of the 155 areas surveyed, 77 showed gains over the third quarter of 2009, and 11 showed double-digit gains.

“Home sales through the first three quarters of this year are virtually the same as year-to-date sales at this time last year, and therefore broadly support home values,” Yun said. “However, there are large local market differences, with prices rising in job-creating regions like the Washington, D.C., area, the Dakotas and Texas; and also in markets recovering from overcorrection such as California coastal cities.”

And even in many of the 76 down markets, home value losses were not as painful as they had been in the recent past. Homeowners in the area of Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach, Fla., may not be happy about the 1 percent decline in median home values compared to this time last year, but that drop beats the 24.6 percent year-over-year decline they experienced in the third quarter of 2009.