Median home prices for single-family homes posted year-over-year gains in 110 out of 147 markets tracked by the National Association of Realtors during the second quarter, compared with 74 markets that saw annual appreciation during the first quarter.

Some of the improvement in prices is due to a smaller share of sales in low price ranges where inventory is tight, said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.

But Yun predicted even more markets would post gains in the quarters ahead, which will improve the equity position of existing homeowners, many of whom owe more on their mortgages than their home is worth.

At the national level, the median sale price of existing single-family homes during the second quarter was up 7.3 percent from a year ago, to $181,500. That’s the biggest annual increase in six years, but still left the national median home price down 20.1 percent from the 2006 peak.

Nearly 1 in 4 markets tracked by NAR (34) saw annual price declines. Seven of the 10 markets experiencing the biggest declines were in the Northeast.

The Northeast region saw median home prices fall 1.6 percent from a year ago, to $241,300.

Top 10 markets for median price declines

Metropolitan area Median price, Q2 2011 Median price, Q2 2012 Change from year ago
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn.
Edison, N.J.
Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss.
Elmira, N.Y.
Atlantic City, N.J.
Pittsfield, Mass.
Charleston, W.Va.
Green Bay, Wis.
Manchester-Nashua, N.H.
Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, Conn.

Source: National Association of Realtors

Among markets seeing the strongest annual price appreciation, many experienced sharp declines at the beginning of the downturn, including Detroit, Phoenix and Fort Myers, Fla. In all but one of the 10 markets showing the biggest year-over-year gains, the median sales price was well below the national median.

Top 10 markets for median price gains

Metropolitan area Median price, Q2 2011 Median price, Q2 2012 Change from year ago
Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Mich
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz.
Boise City-Nampa, Idaho
Florence, S.C. 
Akron, Ohio
Buffalo-Niagara Falls, N.Y.
Bismarck, N.D.
Cumberland, Md.-W.Va.
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.
Peoria, Ill.

Source: National Association of Realtors

Total existing-home sales including single-family and condos were down 0.7 percent from the first quarter to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.54 million, with distressed homes (foreclosures and short sales) accounting for 26 percent of transactions, down from 33 percent a year ago.

NAR estimates that first-time buyers, who historically have accounted for 40 percent of home purchases, purchased 34 percent of all homes in the second quarter, up from 33 percent during the first quarter but down from 35 percent a year ago.

Investors, who often pay cash and compete with first-time buyers, accounted for 19 percent of all purchases in the second quarter, down from 22 percent in the first quarter but about the same as a year ago. Some 29 percent of sales were "all cash," down from 32 percent in the first quarter and 30 percent a year ago.

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