NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- There has been no shortage of media reports showing at least a modest recovery in the U.S. housing sector. (TheStreet has the goods here and here.) But now the data are really getting specific, with Clear Capital, a Truckee, Calif.-based real estate analysis firm, pinpointing the fastest-growing U.S. housing markets. Using data compiled through December, Clear Capital says the market as a whole "finished the year strong" and should see "moderate growth" in 2013 as more homebuyers get priced out of a slowly but steadily rising market. The company's home data index says home appreciation gains should be about half as strong as 2012. "Overall the housing recovery still shows evidence of pushing ahead, as indicated by our December home price trends and 2013 forecasts," says Alex Villacorta, director of research at Clear Capital. "Quarterly home prices mostly mirrored those of last month and suggest that some buyers took pause in the initial winter months. Yet, looking back over 2012, national yearly price gains of 4.9% are still strong." "But as it stands now, home prices have continued to show resiliency by posting their largest yearly gain in nearly two and a half years," Villacorta says. U.S. home prices rose, on a year-to-year basis, by 4.9% in 2012. Clear Capital says home prices will appreciate by another 2.1% in 2013 (building off that higher "floor" that Villacorta cites above), as the U.S. housing sector enters its second year of significant recovery. Even though at first blush the Clear Capital data seem to show slower growth in 2013, there could be a good reason for that -- one that shows the housing market really is in full recovery mode: "Our current gains are off market lows at the start of the year; 2013 gains will be measured against a higher price floor after a full year of recovery," Villacorta says.
The news gets better for some U.S. cities seeing a "lag" effect and, as a result, prices rising more toward the second half of 2013. "On a local level, we expect to see shifts in the status quo for some hot markets, like Phoenix, as some buyer segments get priced out of recovering markets," Villacorta notes. "As those buyers search for opportunities, markets with improving local economies and low price points, like Minneapolis, could become the new targets." Clear Capital expects significant growth in cities such as Seattle (a 2013 estimate of 13.5% home price appreciation), Birmingham, Ala., (10% estimate), and Bakersfield and Fresno, Calif. (about 7.9% growth). But don't get too excited if you live in Baltimore, Chicago and St. Louis, where home prices will continue to depreciate, albeit slowly. Growth does vary by region. The West, for example, saw a remarkable 11.8% spike in home values last year and an estimated 2.8% rise in 2013. But the South saw home prices rise by only 4% last year, with an estimated 2% hike this year. The Midwest experienced 3% home price gains last year, with an outlook for 2.3% growth now. Lagging the field is the Northeast, where home prices appreciated by 2% last year and see growth estimates of 1.4%. All in all, its good news for the U.S. homeowners, who may finally see some decent forward traction in terms of their home values. In that regard, 2013 may be a lucky number after all.