Home prices fell 0.4 percent in the last three months of 2009 compared to the same period a year earlier, with four of nine regions posting gains, according to a home price index published by Freddie Mac.

The Conventional Mortgage Home Price Index — which tracks resales of homes with mortgages owned or guaranteed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae — was registering a 9.5 percent year-over-year decline at the same point in 2008.

Low interest rates and the first-time homebuyer tax credit helped boost home sales to their highest level in 2 1/2 years during the final quarter of 2009 after a seasonal adjustment, said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

The purchase-only index excludes refinancings, which provide data from appraisals. A separate index that includes both home purchases and refinancings showed home values falling 4.3 percent from a year ago.

Both indexes can understate price volatility because they don’t include mortgages too large or too risky for Fannie and Freddie.

Regions seeing year-over-year price gains were the Pacific Division (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington), up 1.6 percent; the East South Central Division (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee), up 0.8 percent; the West South Central Division (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas) up 1.5 percent; and the West North Central Division (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, and South Dakota) up 1.1 percent.

Prices were essentially flat from a year ago in the Middle Atlantic Division (New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania), which was down 0.1 percent; and the New England Division (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont), down 0.1 percent.

Prices fell 7 percent from a year ago in the Mountain Division (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming); 1.8 percent in the South Atlantic Division (Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.); and 0.9 percent in the East North Central Division (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin).

Looking back 5 years, home prices were up 1.7 percent on average, with considerable variation by region. The index showed home prices in the East South Central Division up 14.4 percent from 5 years ago, for example, while prices were down 8 percent in the Pacific Division during the same period.

***

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