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Another shot of dueling data

The second important set of housing statistics released this morning also shows that home prices in the Washington area declined less steeply at the end of last year than they had been doing.

According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, home prices in the Washington region fell 1.27 percent in the October-December quarter, compared with the 4.74 percent decline logged between July and September. For the year, Washington-area prices fell 12.15 percent, a very slight improvement over the 12.52 percent annual decline that FHFA reported in late November.

Those gains aren’t as steep as those shown in the S&P/Case-Shiller report released just an hour earlier. That’s no surprise: Throughout this downturn, the Case-Shiller stats have looked much worse than the government’s numbers.

That’s partly because Case-Shiller includes higher-priced homes that don’t qualify for Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loans, as well as loans for borrowers with riskier credit.

Nationally, home prices in 2008 fell 4.5 percent, according to FHFA. That’s the largest four-quarter decline since the agency started keeping records in 1975. The statistic is based on appraised values for home sales and refinancings using Fannie or Freddie mortgages. Locally, the Fannie/Freddie mortgage limit last year was $729,750, but it was as low as $417,000 in many lower-cost parts of the country.

If you look at prices based only on home sales, which includes foreclosures and short sales but excludes deals where owners have enough equity to refinance, home values fell more sharply. FHFA reported that seasonally adjusted prices fell 3.4 percent in the fourth quarter, nationwide. FHFA said that was an 18-year record. For the whole year, prices fell 8.2 percent.

So from what you can see, are things getting any better, or is this just statistical fog?

By Maryann Haggerty  |  February 24, 2009; 11:17 AM ET
Categories:  Statistics  
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