But data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that sales of new single-family U.S. homes rose 12.3% from February 2012 to last month. That signals increasingly aggressive buyers coming out of the woodwork, anxious to cut a deal before home prices really take off -- if that even happens. One sour note from the Census Bureau data: the February numbers show an actual decline of 4.6% in terms of home sales from January 2013. But that may well be due to lousy weather in February in the upper half of the U.S. compared with a relatively milder and dryer January, keeping home shoppers in doors. S&P/Case Shiller also weighed in this week, with its home price index estimating a 7.3% rise in U.S. home prices for its 10-city composite, and 8.1% for its 20-city composite. That index covered January 2012 through January 2013. All 20 cities in the Case Shiller Index -- even Detroit -- showed year-over year gains, although the Motor City was the only one of the 20 to clock in at a lower home price growth rate. Phoenix, Ariz., led the way in terms of average price gains, at 23.2%. Those growth rates are fairly remarkable in the opinion of Case-Shiller analysts. "The two headline composites posted their highest year-over-year increases since summer 2006," says David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. "This marks the highest increase since the housing bubble burst." Every major U.S. city, Blitzer says, has a sunnier story to tell.
"After more than two years of consecutive year-over-year declines, New York reversed trend and posted a positive return in January," he says. "The Southwest (Phoenix and Las Vegas) plus San Francisco posted the highest annual increases; they were also among the hardest hit by the housing bust. Atlanta and Dallas recorded their highest year-over-year gains." The long-term picture is healthy, too, as a grab bag of housing data demonstrate a genuine recovery. "Economic data continue to support the housing recovery," Blitzer says. "Single-family home-building permits and housing starts posted double-digit year-over-year increases in February 2013. Despite a slight uptick in foreclosure filings, numbers are still down 25% year over year. Steady employment and low borrowing rates pushed inventories down to their lowest post-recession levels."