Foreclosures help drive U.S. home prices down

Home prices fell in nearly nine out of every 10 U.S. cities in the fourth quarter of last year as low-cost foreclosures flooded the market and the housing market's decline spread nationwide.

The National Association of Realtors said yesterday that median sales prices of existing homes declined in 134 out of 153 metropolitan areas compared with the corresponding period in 2007. Sales fell in all but six states.


Nationwide, the median sales price was $180,100, down 12.4 percent from a year ago. But price declines of 30 percent or more were found in much of California, plus parts of Michigan, Florida, Arizona and Nevada. The biggest drop, of more than 50 percent, was in Fort Myers, Fla.

In the Baltimore area, prices declined 5.5 percent to $260,100, compared with a year ago. Median prices were down 16.9 percent to $96,900 in Cumberland.


President Barack Obama visited Fort Myers this week in an effort to sell his economic rescue package, which lawmakers are preparing to send to his desk by today.

The states in which sales rose - Nevada, California, Arizona, Florida, Minnesota and Virginia - are places where buyers have been able to snap up foreclosed homes at a bargain. For the year, sales more than doubled in Nevada, rose 85 percent in California, and nearly 43 percent in Arizona.

"We see a pattern of strong sales gains, particularly in lower-price homes, in areas with price declines resulting from foreclosures," Lawrence Yun, the trade group's chief economist, said in a prepared statement.

In California and Florida, sales of distressed properties accounted for about two-thirds of all sales, compared with about 45 percent nationally.

In Maryland, sales fell 15 percent last year, according to the data.

A separate report released earlier this week about the Baltimore area showed sales and prices plummeted in January compared with a year earlier. The average sales price in the city and five surrounding counties fell to $265,768 last month, or more than 10 percent, Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. said. Sales plummeted by more than 21 percent, to just over 1,000 homes sold during the month, the Rockville-based real estate listing service said.

A nasty brew of strict lending standards, falling home values, soaring foreclosures and a severe recession is filtering through the housing market.

Nationwide, more than 274,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice in January, according to RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, Calif.-based foreclosure listing service. That was down 10 percent from December, but still up 18 percent from January a year ago. The numbers would have been higher if not for efforts to stall the foreclosure process. More than 2 million American homeowners faced foreclosure proceedings last year.



Regional median sales price of existing family homes in the fourth quarter of 2008 and percentage change from a year earlier:

United States ......................... $180,100 ..... down 12.4%

Baltimore- Towson .............. $260,100 ....... down 5.5%

Cumberland ............................ $ 96,900 .... down 16.9%

Philadelphia- Camden, N.J.-


Wilmington, Del .................... $212,500 ..... down 6.3%

Richmond, Va. ...................... $199,400 ... down 11.7%

Washington ........................... $295,100 ... down 26.2%

Source: National Association of Realtors