October 29, 2012, 5:58 PM
By Nick Timiraos
There’s little debate that the housing market was in bad shape four years ago—prices, after all, had been falling for 2½ years at a rate not seen since the Great Depression.
But there’s considerable disagreement about whether the market is better off today, a debate fueled by this year’s presidential race. One imperfect but popular gauge of the housing market, the S&P/Case-Shiller index, shows how home prices in the 20 cities tracked by the index compare with their level of January 2009, after adjusting for seasonal factors.
Through July, home prices nationally were down by 3.7% compared with January 2009, according to the Case-Shiller 20-city index. While prices are up from one year ago, they are still narrowly below the near-term peak set in May 2010, when tax credits fueled a burst of sales.
Leading the markets that, according to the Case-Shiller index, have prices running above the levels from January 2009 is San Francisco, which is up almost 10%, followed by Washington, D.C., which is up by more than 8%. Denver and Dallas, which didn’t experience big housing bubbles, have prices running 4.6% and 3%, respectively, ahead of January 2009.
Among the markets that have seen the biggest declines over the past four years: Las Vegas is down nearly 25%, followed by Atlanta, at nearly 19%. Tampa has registered a 12% decline, while Portland, Ore., and Seattle, are down by 11.6% and 11.2%, respective. The Pacific Northwest, together with New York (down 10%), were among the last parts of the country to enter the housing bust.
Metro areas in the Case-Shiller index compared with January 2009:
San Francisco: +9.6%
Washington, D.C.: +8.4%
San Diego: +2.8%
Los Angeles: +0.8%
10-city Index: -2.7%
20-city index: -3.7%
New York: -10.1%
Portland, Ore.: -11.6%
Las Vegas: -24.7%