Bad news for housing: Prices flattening

By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- Home price gains earlier this year flattened out in October, according to a report issued Tuesday.

The S&P/Case Shiller Home Price index, covering 20 of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation, was unchanged in October, after four consecutive months of gains. The index is down 7.3% from 12 months earlier.

"The turnaround in home prices seen in the spring and summer has faded," said David Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor's, in a statement. "Coming after a series of solid gains, these data are likely to spark worries that home prices are about to take a second dip," he said.

Just seven of the 20 cities recorded gains from a month earlier.

The modest gains earlier this year were in part propped up by government initiatives.

"We've seen recent stability because of low interest rates and the impact of the first-time homebuyers tax credit," said Pat Newport, a real estate analyst with IHS Global Insight.

Prices are down from their all-time highs set in 2006 by 29% for the 20-city index.

Among the 20 cities, the worst tumble was taken by Tampa during the month. Prices fell 1.6% from September. Chicago and Atlanta recorded 1% losses.

The biggest gainers were Phoenix, up 1.3%, and San Francisco, up 1.2%.

Las Vegas sellers continued to bleed. Prices there fell just 0.1% but that marked the 38th straight monthly decline. The market in Sin City is off 55.4% from its peak. You can buy a home in Las Vegas for the same price it sold for in October of 2000.

"In most of the hardest-hit markets, price declines are moderating," said Mike Larson, an analyst with Weiss Research.

Los Angeles recorded a rise of 0.3% and San Diego prices gained 0.4%. Miami, however, declined by 0.4%.

According to Larson, falling supplies of homes on the market are helping to stabilize conditions. "Inventories are plunging on the new-home side and going down for existing homes," he said.

Not that he's ready to break out the champagne, even with the New Year close at hand. "The market is recovering but it will be an anemic recovery," he said. To top of page

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