By J.W. Elphinstone — AP Real Estate Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Home prices tumbled by the sharpest annual rate on record in November as the deepening housing slump and national recession spared no region, according to a closely watched index released Tuesday.

But the silver lining might be that more families can finally buy a home for the first time in years. Falling home prices coupled with lower interest rates have shaved hundreds of dollars off monthly mortgage payments, and that is luring buyers back into the market, new data this week showed.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city housing index tumbled by a record 18.2 percent from November 2007, the largest decline since its inception in 2000. The 10-city index dropped 19.1 percent, tied with October for the biggest drop in its 21-year history.

Both indices have recorded year-over-year declines for 23 straight months. Prices are at levels not seen since February 2004.

But the numbers may not be as ugly at second glance, according to Patrick Newport, an economist with IHS Global Insight.

"If you adjust for inflation, they're not record declines," Newport said. "Home prices are still dropping at about a 20-percent clip, but it's not as bad as it's been in last six months."

But the recession and sweeping job losses don't bode well for a near-term turnaround in housing prices. Newport estimates prices will drop another 10 percent to 15 percent this year.

In fact, Americans' mood about the economy darkened further in January, sending a widely watched barometer of consumer sentiment to a new low, the Conference Board said Tuesday.

When it comes to real estate prices, the cities suffering the most are the ones that had the biggest housing bubbles. Phoenix, Las Vegas and San Francisco all clocked in annual price declines of more than 30 percent in November, according to Case-Shiller.

And December figures probably won't look much better.

The National Association of Realtors said Monday the median home price fell a record 15 percent last month to $175,400, down from $207,000 a year ago. That led to a surprising jump in sales from November's level.

With current interest rates and a 10 percent down payment, anyone who buys a median-priced home now would save $254 a month compared with the median price and interest rate of a year ago.

The Realtors' home affordability index in November showed its best reading since 1993.

"I bet when they incorporate December's numbers," Newport said, "it will show housing is as affordable as it was in 1973."

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