US house prices fell by a record 19% in January compared with a year earlier, according to a closely-watched index.

American house prices have dropped by nearly fifth – a new record – in the year to January, figures show.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index of 20 major cities tumbled by 19%, the largest decline since the index started in 2000, and the 10-city index dropped by 19.4% – also a new record.

All 20 cities in the report showed monthly and annual price declines, with 13 having new annual records.

Prices dropped by more than 10% in 14 cities.

“There are very few bright spots that one can see in the data,” David Blitzer, of S&P said. “Most of the nation appears to remain on a downward path.”

But in Cleveland, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Washington DC – areas all ravaged by foreclosures – annual price declines eased.

Six cities, including Minneapolis, Charlotte, Seattle and New York, showed smaller price declines in January compared to December.

Faring the best were Dallas, Denver and Cleveland with annual price declines around 5% in January.

Last week, the National Association of Realtors said sales of previously occupied homes unexpectedly jumped in February by the largest amount in nearly six years as first-time buyers took advantage of deep discounts on foreclosures and other distressed properties.

“We still think there is a good chance the rate of (price) decline will slow through the spring as existing home sales stabilise and perhaps pick up a bit, but foreclosures are weighing heavily on prices,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics.

The Press Association (March 31, 2009)

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