The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 5.8 percent from a year ago, after a 5.5 percent pace in October, according to a report on Tuesday. Also Tuesday, the Conference Board said consumer confidence rose in January, from December.
Home values nationwide have nearly recovered from their July 2006 peak, as the real estate market has slowly recovered from the housing crash that set off the recession. But several metro areas have fully rebounded from the downturn. Four of them — Dallas, Denver, San Francisco and Portland, Ore. — have either matched or eclipsed their highs. And Charlotte, N.C., is less than 1 percent below its previous high.
The rising home values and limited selection could ultimately deter sales growth in 2016.
"The dearth of inventory has really taken its toll on the market,” said Nela Richardson, chief economist at the brokerage firm Redfin. “Home buyers this year are motivated but not desperate, and they refuse to overpay. Without more listings, what we’ll see are higher prices and lower sales volumes, a lousy way to start a new year for home buyers."
The challenges caused by rising home values have been offset by falling mortgage rates in recent weeks.
The mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage declined to 3.81 percent last week, from 3.92 percent a week earlier. Rates have historically averaged 6 percent, meaning that interest expenses are relatively low.
The strong job market, as well as low gasoline prices, helped bolster Americans’ confidence again this month, with the Conference Board saying that its consumer confidence index rose to 98.1, from 96.3 in December, the second consecutive monthly gain. The business research group said Americans were more confident about the future, though their assessment of current economic conditions was unchanged from December.
Consumers shrugged off the recent sharp decline in the stock market and signs of economic weakness overseas.
“The increase is rather surprising given the volatility in equities in the month,” Derek Lindsey, an economist at BNP Paribas, wrote in a research note. “A resilient labor market and low gasoline and utilities prices seem to have offset any negative sentiment stemming from financial markets.”
The stock market has been rattled by the impact of China’s persistent economic slowdown and a plunge in the prices of commodities, including oil.
The Conference Board said 6.6 percent of survey respondents planned to buy a house in the next six months, the highest percentage since December 2013.