Home price movement was mixed across metropolitan areas (MSAs) in the fourth quarter of 2013 the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) said today.  Median prices rose in fewer markets than in the third quarter although a number saw increases in double digits, and there were nearly four dozen areas where prices fell.

Prices rose in 119 or 73 percent of the 164 MSAs tracked by NAR compared to in 88 percent in the third quarter.  Forty-two of the areas or 26 percent (down from 33 percent the previous quarter) saw double digit increases but prices declined in 43 markets and were unchanged in two.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said there are two ways of looking at the price gains. "The vast majority of homeowners have seen significant gains in equity over the past two years, which is helping the economy through increased consumer spending," he said. "At the same time, home prices have been rising faster than incomes, while mortgage interest rates are above the record lows of a year ago. This is beginning to hamper housing affordability."

The national median home price in the fourth quarter was $196,900, up 10.1 percent from $178,900 one year earlier.  The year-over-year increase in Q3 was 12.5 percent.  Median prices in the five priciest housing markets were double to triple the national median.  In the most expensive market, San Jose, the median existing single-family house price was $775,000 followed by nearby San Francisco at $682,400.  In Honolulu the median was $670,800 followed by Anaheim-Santa Ana at $666,300 and San Diego at $476,800.

At the other end of the scale, Toledo had a median single-family home price of $80,500; Rockford, Illinois, $81,400, and Cumberland, Maryland $89,500.  Elmira, New York was fourth lowest at $99,500 and South Bend had a median price of $101,100.

Metro area condominium and cooperative prices - covering changes in 55 metro areas - showed the national median existing-condo price was $197,200 in the fourth quarter, up 10.7 percent from the fourth quarter of 2012. Forty-four metros showed increases in their median condo price from a year ago, one was unchanged and 10 areas had declines.

Inventories of available homes for sale remain below historical levels.  At the end of the fourth quarter there were 1.86 million existing homes on the market, an estimated 4.9 month supply.  In the fourth quarter of 2012 the inventory contained 1.83 million homes available, about a 4.8 month supply. NAR says a supply of 6.0 to 6.5 months represents a rough balance between buyers and sellers.

Yun said that tight supplies in many areas accounted for double-digit price growth and added, "New home construction activity needs to increase significantly in the fast appreciating markets to help relieve upward price pressure."   He noted that in 2013, housing starts totaled 924,000, well below the historic average of 1.5 million units that typically are needed.

Total existing-home sales, including single-family and condo, fell 7.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.94 million in the fourth quarter from 5.36 million in the third quarter, but were 0.8 percent above the 4.90 million level during the fourth quarter of 2012.

NAR President Steve Brown said consumers need to keep in mind that all real estate is local. "The national figures provide useful background, but it really gets down to supply and demand in a given neighborhood," he said. "Metropolitan area figures are an excellent gauge of local housing markets, but there can be widely ranging conditions within a metro area. This is why it's best to consult with a Realtor, who has additional resources and can provide much greater detail on specific locations."

Rising home prices and interest rates are naturally affecting affordability and NAR's national annual Housing Affordability Index fell to 175.8 in 2013 from a record high 196.5 in 2012.  An index of 100 is defined as the point where a median-income household has exactly enough income to qualify for the purchase of a median-priced existing single-family home, assuming a 20 percent downpayment and 25 percent of gross income devoted to mortgage principal and interest payments.

Metro areas with the greatest housing affordability conditions in 2013 include Toledo, Ohio, with an index of 395.4; Rockford, Ill., at 374.5; Decatur, Ill., 343.7; Lansing-East Lansing, Mich., 331.4; and Springfield, Ill., at 327.8.

Regionally, total existing-home sales in the Northeast declined 7.1 percent in the fourth quarter, but are 7.1 percent above the fourth quarter of 2012. The median existing single-family home price in the Northeast was $241,000 in the fourth quarter, up 5.5 percent to from a year ago.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales fell 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter, but are 2.0 percent higher than a year ago. The median home price increased 7.0 percent to $152,400 in the fourth quarter from the same quarter a year ago.

Sales in the South declined 4.4 percent in the fourth quarter, but are 3.6 percent above the fourth quarter of 2012. The median price was $173,000 in the fourth quarter, an 8.3 percent year-over-year increase.

In the West existing-home sales dropped 12.7 percent in the fourth quarter, and are 8.1 percent below a year ago. With notable inventory restrictions, the median existing single-family home price in the West jumped 15.5 percent to $286,200 in the fourth quarter from the fourth quarter of 2012.