NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Home prices are showing signs of strength.
Prices in 20 metropolitan cities, tracked by the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, rose 4.6% year over year in January, compared to 4.4% in December, according to numbers released Tuesday.
"Prices for existing homes look quite strong," said David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. "The housing market had a rough time over the past few years and bottomed out in 2012, so we're on the rebound."
The index has risen 29% since its March 2012 dip.
Low mortgage rates have been a theme of the housing recovery. The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage stands at about 3.7%, compared to 4.4% at this time last year, Freddie Mac said last week.
The Federal Reserve'slooming tightening is expected to slowly push mortgage rates higher, increasing borrowing costs for buyers.
One school of thought is the threat of higher rates from the Fed's actions could prompt buyers who had been sitting on the sidelines, to pull the trigger and buy a home to take advantage of low rates, thus pushing prices higher.
But Blitzer doesn't see that happening.
"Everyone agrees the Fed is going to raise rates, but no two people can agree on when," he added. "I don't see this rush to buy before something bad happens."
Blitzer says that once the Fed does raise rates, that could momentarily scare the market. But Blitzer thinks it's the second or third rate hike that could have more of an impact on home prices. The first rate hike is likely to push the fed funds rate higher by a paltry 25 basis points, resulting in a virtually unnoticeable increase in a buyer's monthly mortgage payments.
Going forward, Blitzer points to weak wage growth as a factor that could throw a wrench into the housing recovery. "In the background, wage growth is running at about half the rate of home price increases," he said. "That's not an instant disaster, but we can't keep doing that for a long time without shrinking the pool of people who are in a position to buy a house."
The next reading on average hourly earnings for March is released on Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.