U.S. house prices rose 0.6% in February following January's 1.1% decline, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) reported Tuesday. Economists had expected a monthly decline of 1.5%.

In the previous month, U.S. home prices fell 1.1% between December 2007 and January 2008, contributing to a 12-month decline of 3.0%.

For the 12 months ending in February, U.S. prices fell 2.4%. Since its peak in April 2007, the index is down 3.1%, the OFHEO reported.

For the nine divisions covered by the survey, the seasonally adjusted monthly price changes ranged from -0.6% to 2.2% from January to February. Seven of the 9 regions reported increases in February, led by New England, which saw prices rise 2.2%, and West North Central region, which reported a 1.3% gain.

The East South Central region also reported a 1.2% increase. The Mountain region reported the largest price decline of 0.6%.

The other region to report a continued drop in prices was the South Atlantic at -0.2%.

In the quarterly report for the fourth quarter of 2007, the purchase-only house price index fell by 1.3% from the third quarter, a substantially greater decrease than the 0.3% price decline between Q2 and Q3. Over the past year, prices fell 0.3%, as the fourth-quarter decline erased earlier price gains.

The purchase-only index is based on more than five million repeat sales transactions, while the all-transactions index, released quarterly, includes more than 34 million repeat transactions. Both indexes are based on data obtained from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for mortgages originated over the past 32 years.

By Stephen Huebl and edited by Nancy Girgis