The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller national home price index released Wednesday increased 4.3 percent in October compared with a year ago. That's the largest year-over-year increase in two and a half years, when a homebuyer tax credit temporarily boosted sales.
Prices rose in October from a year ago in 18 of 20 cities. Phoenix led all cities with a 21.7 percent gain, followed Detroit, where prices increased 10 percent. Prices declined in Chicago and New York.
Home prices fell in 12 of 20 cities in October compared with September. Monthly prices are not seasonally adjusted, so the decreases reflect the end of the peak buying season.
Still, the broader trend is encouraging. October marked the fifth straight month of year-over-year gains, after nearly two years of declines. Prices rose in mid-2010 in the final months before the tax credit expired. They had fallen sharply in 2008 and 2009.
"It is clear that the housing recovery is gaining strength," said David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indexes.
Prices nationwide have recovered to about the same level as in the fall of 2003, according to the Case-Shiller index. They remain about 30 percent below the peak reached in the summer of 2006.
The S&P/Case-Shiller index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The October figures are the latest available.
Steady gains in home prices have helped drive a modest recovery in the housing market. Rising prices encourage more potential buyers to come off the sidelines and purchase homes. And more people may put their homes on the market as they gain confidence that they can sell at a good price.
Higher home prices can also make homeowners feel wealthier and more likely to spend more. Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of the U.S. economy.