U.S. home prices rise 1.7% in January

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. home prices rose 1.7 percent on a seasonally-adjusted basis from December to January, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s monthly House Price Index. December’s previously reported 0.1 percent increase was revised to a 0.2 percent decline. For the 12 months ending in January, U.S. prices fell 6.3 percent. The U.S. index is 9.6 percent below its April 2007 peak.

The FHFA monthly index is calculated using purchase prices of houses backing mortgages that have been sold to or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. For the nine Census Divisions, seasonally-adjusted monthly price changes from December to January ranged from –0.9 percent in the Pacific Division to +3.9 percent in the East North Central Division.

Month-to-month changes in the geographic mix of sales activity explain most of the unexpected rise in prices in January. The January home sales reflected in the FHFA data disproportionately occurred in areas with the strongest markets. While it is difficult to perfectly control for changing geographic mix in estimating house price indexes, the data suggest that if one were to remove those effects, the change in home prices in January, while still positive, would have been far less dramatic.

It also should be noted that sales volumes, in absolute terms, were relatively low in the month. Accordingly, the estimation imprecision associated with the January estimate is relatively large and subsequent revisions to the monthly figure could be significant.

Monthly index values and appreciation rate estimates are provided in the table and graph on the following pages. As with FHFA’s quarterly HPI, the estimates will be revised as new data become available. Quarterly HPI reports include updated monthly data presented in the same format as the attached table. For detailed information concerning the monthly HPI, please see the HPI Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). The next release of index data will be on Apr. 22, 2009 and will include data for the month of February.