Home Prices Fall Anew As Consumers Stay Wary

U.S. home prices fell an average of 19 percent in January from a year earlier, the largest one-year drop on record, according to a report released Tuesday. Foreclosures and a hefty backlog of unsold houses continued to glut the market and weigh on consumer confidence.

The Sun Belt was worst-hit, with Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, San Francisco and San Diego taking the biggest declines. Single-family-home prices in those markets were down more than 40 percent from January 2008, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index released Tuesday.

The New York-based Conference Board, a private research group, said consumer confidence in the economy remained unchanged in March after falling to a historic revised low of 25.3 in February. Besides housing, apprehension about the economy in general, the labor market and corporate earnings continued to hold down consumer confidence. The index has been compiled since 1967.

"Looking ahead, consumers remain extremely pessimistic about the short-term future and do not foresee a turnaround in economic conditions over the coming six months," said Lynn Franco, the director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center.

"More job losses are on the horizon," she said.

While a breakdown of the latest housing data showed declines across the board, the Dallas, Denver and Cleveland metro areas fared best, falling around 5 percent each. Of 20 metro areas surveyed, 13 showed record rates of annual decline.

"Most of the nation appears to remain on a downward path, with all of the 20 metro areas reporting annual declines, and nine of the [metro areas] falling more than 20 percent in the last year," David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor's, said in a statement.

Last week, the National Association of Realtors, a private real estate group, said sales of existing homes rose unexpectedly from January to February as buyers went after deep discounts on foreclosures.

The NAR said sales of existing homes grew 5.1 percent to an annual rate of 4.72 million last month, from 4.49 million units in January. It was the largest sales jump since July 2003.

The group reported median sales price in February was down 15.5 percent from the same period a year earlier, falling to $165,400 from $195,800 in February 2008.

From NPR and wire service reports

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