(AP) — Home prices are falling in most major U.S. cities, and at least 10 major markets are at their lowest point since the housing bubble burst.
The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city index showed home prices declined in 19 metro areas from January to February and 11 markets experienced faster price declines compared with the previous month.
The index, which was released Tuesday, fell for the seventh straight month. It is slightly above the level hit in April 2009, the lowest point since the bubble burst. Analysts expect the March index will fall past the low point.
High unemployment, stricter lending rules and fears that prices will fall further are among the reasons why few people are buying and selling homes. A record number of foreclosures are forcing down home prices in most metro areas, and prices are expected to keep falling through this year.
"There is evidence that potential sellers are holding their properties off the market, waiting for housing prices to stop falling," said Bricklin Dwyer, an analyst at BNP Paribas.
Detroit was the only market to show a monthly gain, although the Motor City is one of five cities where home prices are now below their January 2000 levels.
Prices in Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami, New York, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., Seattle and Tampa are all at their lowest point since 2006 or 2007, at the height of the housing boom. The cities with the steepest declines from January were Minneapolis, San Francisco, Chicago and Miami.
In many depressed markets, a significant percentage of buyers are investors and private equity firms looking to cash in on cheap real estate.
The housing sector is struggling even while much of the economy is recovering slowly but steadily. Some of the worst declines in home prices are in cities hit hardest by unemployment and foreclosures.
Foreclosures are expected to rise to 1.2 million this year as many banks revisit thousands of foreclosure cases, spurred into action by federal regulators who have ordered top-to-bottom reviews of how foreclosures were carried out over the past two years.
"It's hard to sell when buyers have the leverage and foreclosures continue to create a gap between distressed sale prices and non-distressed sale prices," said Jonathan Basile, an economist at Credit Suisse Securities. More than 90 percent of homeowners say it's a bad time to sell their home, according to the Reuters/University of Michigan Survey of Consumers.
The Case-Shiller index measures sales of select homes in those cities compared to January 2000. For each of the 20 metro areas it studies, the index provides an updated three-month moving average price. By measuring the sales price of the same homes over time, the index attempts to gauge true market values.