U.S. Home Prices Rise in November; All-Time Highs in 4 Cities

This June 4, 2015, photo shows a sold sign posted at a new home development in Nashville, Tenn. The National Association of Realtors releases its May report on pending home sales, which are seen as a barometer of future purchases, on Monday, June 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
This 2015 file photo shows a sign posted at a new home development in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

U.S. home prices increased at a faster clip in November, its gains fueled by solid hiring growth, historically low mortgage rates, and a shortage of houses on the market.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 5.8 percent from a year ago, up from a 5.5 percent pace in October, according to a Tuesday report.

Home values nationwide have nearly returned to their July 2006 peak, as the real estate market has slowly recovered from the housing bust that triggered the Great Recession. But several metro areas have fully rebounded from the downturn. Four metro areas — Dallas, Denver, San Francisco and Portland Oregon — have either matched or eclipsed their all-time highs. And Charlotte, North Carolina is less than 1 percent below its previous high.

Buyers crowded back into the housing market last year. Sales of existing homes rose 6.5 percent over the past year to 5.26 million, according to the National Association of Realtors. More Americans have been able to purchase homes, as employers have added 2.7 million jobs and borrowing costs remain low.

On the flip side, the number of available listings has fallen 3.8 percent from a year ago, creating a seller’s market. Ultimately, rising home values and limited selection could curb sales growth in 2016.

“The dearth of inventory has really taken its toll on the market,” maintains Nela Richardson, Chief Economist at the Redfin brokerage. “Homebuyers this year are motivated but not desperate, and they refuse to overpay. Without more listings what we’ll see are higher prices and lower sales volumes, a lousy way to start a new year for homebuyers.”

The rising prices have created some affordability pressures — such that down payments have fallen as a percentage of the purchase price, even as they have increased in absolute terms. For a conventional 30-year mortgage, the average down payment was 17.46 percent of the purchase price in the October-December quarter. That is down from 17.63 percent in the prior quarter, according to a Monday report by LendingTree, the online loan marketplace. Despite this, buyers had to devote $51,721 for their average down payment at the end of 2015, a 5.72 percent increase from the third quarter.

In recent weeks, the challenges caused by rising home values have been offset by falling mortgage rates. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage declined to 3.81 percent last week from 3.92 percent a week earlier. Rates have historically averaged 6 percent, meaning that interest expenses are relatively low for homebuyers.