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Home prices in 20 cities grew at slower pace in April

🕐 4 min read

WASHINGTON — Home prices in 20 cities rose at a slower pace than projected in April, indicating the market was experiencing uneven gains as it entered the busier selling season.

The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values increased 4.9 percent from April 2014 after climbing 5 percent in the year ended in March, the group said Tuesday in New York. The median estimate of 31 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 5.5 percent advance. Nationally, prices rose 4.2 percent.

A pickup in sales as the job market improves and younger Americans start venturing out on their own means gains in home prices will probably accelerate as demand outstrips supply. Rising residential real-estate values will, in turn, help owners rebuild equity and spur builders to take on more projects, leading to increases in spending and investment that will give the economy a boost.

“The housing sector is generally on an upswing,” said Tom Simons, an economist at Jefferies in New York, whose forecast for a 5 percent increase was among the closest in the Bloomberg survey. “The thing that has been supporting home prices for the recent part of the recovery has been low inventories, and now it seems demand is starting to pick up as well. That should help further support the case for somewhat higher prices.”

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from gains of 4.7 percent to 5.8 percent. The S&P/Case-Shiller index is based on a three-month average, which means the April figure also was influenced by transactions in March and February.

Home prices in the 20-city index adjusted for seasonal variations increased 0.3 percent in April from the prior month, less than the Bloomberg survey median of 0.8 percent.

All 20 cities in the index showed a year-over-year gain, led by a 10.3 percent increase in Denver. Prices climbed 10 percent in San Francisco.

The price increases decelerated in 11 cities in April from the same time in 2014.

The year-over-year gauge, based on records dating back to 2001, provides better indications of trends in prices, the group has said. The panel includes Karl Case and Robert Shiller, the economists who created the index.

Measured against a month earlier, property prices rose in 11 cities in April, according to the seasonally adjusted data. They jumped 1 percent in Minneapolis. The biggest decrease was in Cleveland, where they fell 0.5 percent. Values were little changed in Tampa.

Denver and San Francisco reported the highest year-over-year gains with price increases of 10.3 percent and 10 percent, respectively, over the last 12 months. Dallas reported an 8.8 percent year-over-year gain to round out the top three cities

A dearth of supply is keeping prices in most areas rising as more Americans consider home purchases. While the number of previously owned homes for sale rose 1.8 percent in May to 2.3 million, at the current sales pace, it would take 5.1 months to sell those houses, National Association of Realtors data show. That’s down from 5.2 months at the end of the prior month.

Low inventories are keeping homebuilders such as Miami- based Lennar Corp. optimistic about the industry’s momentum.

“There’s a need for shelter across the country and there’s very little inventory and almost no likelihood of mortgage foreclosures given the stringent underwriting standards of the past years,” Chief Executive Officer Stuart Miller said in a June 24 earnings call. “This year’s spring selling season confirms that the market is continuing to improve at a very consistent pace.”

Existing-home sales rose in May to a 5.35 million annualized rate, the highest level since November 2009, the National Association of Realtors reported last week. The share of first-time buyers matched the highest level since September 2012.

While housing starts declined 11.1 percent in May to a 1.04 million annualized rate, that followed a revised 1.17 million pace in April to cap the best back-to-back readings since late 2007, according to Commerce Department figures. Permits for future projects rose to the highest level in almost eight years.

A brightening employment picture and signs of an emergence in wage growth are luring buyers to the market. Payrolls rose by 280,000 in May, the biggest increase in five months, and the unemployment rate edged up to 5.5 percent from 5.4 percent in April as more workers joined the labor force. So far this year, job gains have averaged 217,400 a month after 259,670 in 2014.

The Labor Department is set to report June labor-market figures on July 2. Employers added 230,000 jobs in June, according to the Bloomberg survey median.

Some indicators have shown pay growth is strengthening. Private wages, which exclude government workers, rose at the fastest year-over-year pace since 2008, according to the Labor Department’s April 30 report on employment costs.

The agency’s monthly employment report showed a more moderate 2.3 percent gain in average hourly earnings in May from a year earlier. While that was the strongest since August 2013, it’s still close to the 2 percent average since the start of the expansion.

— Chris Middleton contributed from Washington.

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