Home prices nationwide continued to rise in the first quarter of 2007, although at the lowest rate in 10 years, according to a federal agency’s analysis of data from mortgage repurchasers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

For the year, homes appreciated faster than other goods and services that make up the Consumer Price Index, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) reported today in issuing its quarterly house-price index (HPI).

OFHEO reported the HPI rose .5 percent from the previous quarter, down from the 1.3 percent gain in home prices registered between the third and fourth quarters of 2006.

For the year, home prices tracked in the index were up 4.3 percent from the same quarter a year ago, compared with a 1.6 percent rise in the price of goods and services in the consumer price index, excluding shelter.

“Low interest rates and unemployment rates continue to prop up house prices in most markets,” said OFHEO Chief Economist Patrick Lawler in a statement accompanying the release of the index.

The HPI tracks only repeat sales and refinance transactions involving conforming mortgages of $417,000 or less, excluding condominiums and mortgages on properties financed by government insured loans such as FHA or VA mortgages.

Because it does not include all home sales — and because homes that are refinanced tend to be more valuable — the index is not considered an exact measurement of home-price appreciation. But many economists see it as a useful tool for analyzing trends at the national, regional, state and metropolitan-area level.

The latest HPI shows a wide variation in home-price appreciation by state, with seven states registering price drops in the first quarter of 2007. Those states were California (-.84 percent); Florida (-.34 percent); Maine (-.13 percent); Massachusetts (-.47 percent); Michigan (-.2 percent); Nevada (-.52 percent); and West Virginia (-.19 percent).

For the year, seven states saw home prices decline or appreciate by less than 2 percent — California (1.19 percent); Massachusetts (-.56 percent); Michigan (-.66 percent); Ohio .84 percent); Nevada (.6 percent); New Hampshire (1.07 percent); and Rhode Island (1.5 percent).

On a regional basis, the Mountain Census Division continues to have the strongest housing markets, as it was home to the four states with the greatest annual appreciation rates: Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Seven states experienced double-digit appreciation rates between first-quarter 2006 and first-quarter 2007. The states with the fastest rate of appreciation for the period were Utah (17.01 percent); Idaho (12.27 percent); Montana (11.68 percent); Wyoming (11.67 percent); Washington (11.63 percent); New Mexico (11.21 percent); and Oregon (10.77 percent).

At the metropolitan level, prices were up from the previous quarter in 237 of the 285 cities on OFHEO’s list of ranked metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). Another 46 cities experienced price declines, with no change in two other MSAs.

The MSAs with the greatest annual rate of appreciation between the first quarter of 2006 and the first quarter of 2007 were: Wenatchee, Wash. (25.6 percent); Provo-Orem, Utah (19.7 percent); and Salt Lake City, Utah (19.1 percent). The MSAs with the lowest rates of appreciation for the same period were: Punta Gorda, Fla. (-4.6 percent); Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville, Calif. (-4.4 percent); and Modesto, Calif. (-4.4 percent).

Many cities in Washington and Utah have seen strong home-price appreciation over the past year. Of the 20 cities with the greatest four-quarter appreciation, five are in Washington state. Only five of Washington’s 12 largest metropolitan areas saw four-quarter appreciation of less than 10 percent. Utah’s three largest metropolitan areas (Salt Lake City, Provo-Orem and Ogden-Clearfield) were among the five fastest appreciating cities in the United States.

In comparing the first quarter of 2007 to the last quarter of 2006, prices declined in a majority of ranked cities in California and Florida. Thirteen of the 18 Florida cities on the list of ranked MSAs experienced price declines, and 22 of 26 ranked California cities saw price declines.

OFHEO has also made downloadable indexes of “purchase only” mortgages, previously only available on a national basis, available for each state and nine regional Census Divisions. The purchase-only index increased 3 percent between the first quarter of 2006 and the first quarter of 2007, compared with 4.3 percent for the HPI.

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