Home prices reach new low

For sale sign with sky in background

Home prices keep falling -- declining to a new low in April, according to one study -- leaving some analysts and pundits to proclaim we're officially in a double-dip housing recession.

But a true real estate double-dip occurs when home prices after a fall increase dramatically only to fall again as quickly. That dramatic jump never happened following the 2009 recession.

Given that kind of explanation, it's hard to describe the state of U.S. home prices as a double-dip. It's more like we hit bottom two years ago and have been scraping along ever since.

The peak price of homes, according to S&P/Case-Shiller index data, occurred in May 2006. We're down 32% from that peak.

Despite some rejoicing about the housing market’s triumphant return to stability, things aren't getting much better.

S&P data from February show prices in 20 cities measured were lower than a year ago, but slightly above the April 2009 bottom. Only the Washington, D.C., housing market saw an increase from last year.

Credit the initial price rebound after the recession to federal government incentives, namely the home buyer tax credit.

With that credit expired, the economy remains too weak for many who otherwise would commit to seeking a new home. Stricter home loan practices have also made it harder for people to get the mortgages they seek.

And Clear Capital, a housing research firm, warns things aren't likely to improve anytime soon: "A note of caution to those looking for a strong end to 2011: The last time no incentives were in place and distressed inventories were this high, home prices fell sharply."

Nope, this isn't a double-dip, but it sure is bumpy down here.

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