The median home price nationwide saw its biggest jump in seven years last quarter as for-sale inventory hit its lowest level in 12 years, according to a quarterly report from the National Association of Realtors.

Of 152 metro areas, 133 (87.5 percent) saw their median sales prices rise year over year in fourth-quarter 2012 compared with 120 in the third quarter and only 29 in fourth-quarter 2011.

Nationally, the median sales price jumped 10 percent on an annual basis, to $178,900 — the strongest annual price increase since fourth-quarter 2005 when the median rose 13.6 percent, NAR said.

"Home sales are on a sustained uptrend; mortgage interest rates are hovering near record lows; and unsold inventory is at the lowest level in 12 years," said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, in a statement. 

"Home sales are being fueled by a pent-up demand and job creation, along with still favorable affordability conditions and rents rising at faster rates. Our population has been growing faster than overall housing stock, so supply and demand dynamics are very much at play," Yun said.

More housing construction is needed to relieve some of the pressure in the market and keep home prices from overheating, Yun added.

NAR said some of the price growth could be attributed to a shrinking share of lower-priced homes. Distressed properties, typically sold at a discount compared to traditional homes, accounted for 23 percent of sales in the fourth quarter, down from 30 percent in fourth-quarter 2011, the report said.

Total U.S. existing-home sales rose 12.1 percent year over year and 5 percent quarter-to-quarter to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.9 million — the highest level since fourth-quarter 2009 when sales hit 4.95 million, NAR said.

Unsold inventory of existing homes stood at 1.82 million at the end of the fourth quarter, down 21.6 percent year over year. That’s the lowest level since January 2001 when there were 1.78 million unsold homes, the report said.

The increase in the national median home price last quarter was partly driven by inventory shortages in the West that helped push up the median price in that region 20.1 percent year over year, to $245,200. Existing-home sales in the West rose by the smallest share of the four regions last quarter, 5 percent on an annual basis to a seasonally adjusted rate of 1.19 million.

Of the 10 metro areas with the biggest price jumps in the fourth quarter, seven were in the West.

Metro area Q4 2011 Q4 2012 % Chg.
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz. $118,800 $159,100 33.9%
Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Mich. $50,800 $66,700 31.3%
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif. $462,300 $593,220 28.3%
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla. $108,000 $135,900 25.8%
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. $549,000 $685,000 24.8%
Boise City-Nampa, Idaho $117,900 $145,000 23.0%
Akron, Ohio $91,400 $112,400 23.0%
Tucson, Ariz. $130,800 $158,900 21.5%
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. $172,300 $209,260 21.5%
Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev. $121,800 $146,300 20.1%

Source: National Association of Realtors

The Midwest saw the biggest annual jump in sales, 18.3 percent, to 1.14 million. The region’s median sales price increased 9.2 percent year over year to $143,800.

In the South, existing-home sales rose 13.2 percent on an annual basis last quarter, to 1.95 million. The region’s median sales price increased 9.1 percent year over year to $160,100.

Existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 12.9 percent year over year in the fourth quarter, to 613,000, though the median price remained relatively flat, seeing only a 0.7 percent increase to $228,400.

Of the 10 metro areas with the biggest price decreases last quarter, four were in the Northeast.

Metro area Q4 2011 Q4 2012 % Chg.
Kingston, N.Y. $202,700 $186,600 -7.9%
Kankakee-Bradley, Ill. $116,500 $108,400 -7.0%
Erie, Pa. $111,400 $104,600 -6.1%
Binghamton, N.Y. $109,800 $103,500 -5.7%
Rockford, Ill. $86,700 $82,500 -4.8%
Farmington, N.M.  $179,200 $173,100 -3.4%
Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss. $103,500 $100,400 -3.0%
NY: Edison, N.J. $298,300 $290,700 -2.5%
Topeka, Kan. $102,700 $100,400 -2.2%
Columbia, S.C. $140,800 $137,800 -2.1%

Source: National Association of Realtors

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