Both. This month’s release of the Case-Shiller house price indexes includes March values for the monthly 20 and 10 city composite indexes (and component cities) and first quarter values for the national index.
The national (not seasonally adjusted) index shows prices down 2.0 percent in the first quarter of 2012 from the fourth quarter of 2011, and down 1.9 percent from the first quarter of last year. The 20 and 10 city composites show prices basically flat between February and March (0.0 percent and -0.1 percent, respectively), and down 2.6 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively, from March of last year.
Technically, the declines bring these three indexes to new lows from the recent bust. But it’s clear that the broader pattern in the indexes is a sharp deceleration from the earlier declines and a general flattening of the trend (with the exception of the clear seasonal pattern). Most analysts are describing house prices as stabilizing with the caveat of possible future small declines.
Across the 20 cities included in the composites the signals are more upbeat. Twelve of the 20 markets posted increases for the month, while 7 were above year ago levels. This is a considerable improvement from January and February when prices were softening. The three California markets, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Washington DC, posted gains in March. This is particularly encouraging because these markets were among the top performers but weakened significantly over last winter. Miami and Tampa posted gains providing hope that these Florida markets may have finally hit bottom. Phoenix added to a string of monthly gains, leaving Las Vegas as the lone market in the bubble states that has yet to show signs of recovery.
In terms of new lows, only 5 of the 20 markets set new lows with the March data: Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, New York and Portland. Of the 15 markets that remain above an earlier trough average growth has accelerated in the last 3 months and the average length of time since the trough is 20 months.
For full histories of the 20 markets included in the Case-Shiller composite, click here cs.