The decline of the housing market in 20 major cities continued through February, but there's a shred of good news: for the first time in nearly 18 months, the overall drop for that month failed to set a record, according to a new monthly housing report.
Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller Home Price Index, a closely watched measure of 20 major cities, fell 18.6 percent in February 2009 from February 2008. The month before, it had dropped by 19 percent. Prior to Tuesday's report, the index had set a record for 16 straight months.
"While the declines in residential real estate continued into February, we witnessed some deceleration in the rate of decline in some of the markets," David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor's, said in a statement.
As of February of this year, average home prices in the U.S. were at levels similar to that of 2003. And although the rate of decline seems to be slowing down, home prices are still tumbling in all 20 markets. In February, every city posted monthly and annual declines in average home prices.
Worst hit in the month of February was Cleveland, the only city to post a record monthly decline, which amounted to half a percent.
Three other cities -- Charlotte, New York and Washington -- showed a steeper decline in February than January, indicating that their performance has been jagged.
In terms of year-over-year performance, the three hardest hit cities continue to be from the sunbelt. Phoenix was down 35.2 percent; Las Vegas, 31.7 percent; and San Francisco, 31 percent.
Best off seems to be Dallas, which has declined by just 4.5 percent year-over-year. That city also posted the smallest monthly drop, returning -- 0.3 percent.
Other relatively good performers were Denver and Boston.
The study also provided a snapshot showing how far the market has fallen since its peak. Phoenix is down nearly 51 percent from its zenith in June of 2006. On this measure, Dallas again has fared the best, down 11 percent from its peak in June of 2007. This means that all 20 areas are in double-digit declines in comparison to their heydays.
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