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U.S. Home Prices Have Smallest Decline in More Than 2 Years

U.S. home prices fell 0.8 percent in January from a year earlier, the smallest decline in more than two years, as the U.S. property market begins to stabilize.

The region that includes Massachusetts and Connecticut led the decline, falling 3.5 percent, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said today in a report from Washington. In the area that encompasses North Dakota and Minnesota, prices jumped 5.2 percent, the only region to show an increase over January 2011.

While demand for homes has increased in recent months, prices have been slow to follow. Sales of previously owned U.S. houses held close to an almost two-year high in February, the National Association of Realtors said yesterday.

“The market for single-family homes picked up in the second half of 2011, after being stuck near the bottom for nearly three years,” Patrick Newport and Michelle Valverde, economists for IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts, said in a note to clients yesterday. “This pickup is real, but the road to recovery will be a long one.”

The FHFA’s U.S. House Price Index was 19.2 percent below its April 2007 peak and roughly the same as the February 2004 level. The year-over-year decline in January was the smallest since November 2009, when prices fell 0.6 percent.

Prices in January were unchanged from the previous month on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the FHFA.

The report measures changes in real estate values using purchases of properties with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. It doesn’t provide a specific price for houses.

As measured by the National Association of Realtors, the median home price was $154,600 in January. In February, it climbed to $156,600, the trade group said.

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