Area home prices fall a little

Charlotte-area home prices posted a second month of declines, but the market remains one of the nation's strongest and showed a glimmer of hope, according to a popular index released Tuesday.

Prices inched down 0.2 percent for the 12 months through May, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index.

That was, by far, the smallest decline and well below the record drop of nearly 16 percent for the 20 major urban markets studied.

Last month, Charlotte ended a three-month stretch as the only market where values were rising compared with a year ago.

One possible bright spot: May marked the third consecutive month in which Charlotte prices rose slightly when compared with the previous month. Typically, the longer period is more valid for comparisons. However, month-to-month changes can be useful in spotting trends, said David Blitzer, a managing director with Standard & Poor's.

The three small upticks don't herald a turnaround, he said, “but it is very slightly encouraging.”

Nationwide, housing prices have been battered by high foreclosure levels, a glut of available housing and a weak economy.

Tighter lending standards and higher mortgage interest rates also have made it harder for people to buy houses. And many buyers are waiting, hopeful that better bargains might yet come.

The Charlotte area experienced more modest price growth during the frantic housing market of a few years ago and so has not been hit as hard by declines.

However, the decline in the region's new home construction and home sales has been outpacing national rates this year as the housing downturn takes root. The downturn began about a year later in Charlotte than elsewhere.

The index's biggest drops continue in bubble markets where prices shot up and so have had further to fall. Las Vegas led the declines, at 28.4 percent with Miami a close second at 28.3 percent.

Others falling 20 percent or more compared with a year ago were Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco and Tampa, Fla. Charlotte is the only Carolinas market in the index.

The index measures changes in values for existing homes but does not report prices. Another measure shows similar price fluctuations.

In the second quarter, the Charlotte area's median sales price for all types of new and existing houses fell 1 percent from the April-June period in 2007, to $184,000, according to Market Opportunity Research Enterprises.

Prices for existing single-family homes, which account for 60 percent of sales, fell 4 percent to a median of $165,000, according to the Rocky Mount firm, which tallies data from public records.