Finally, an end to the sharp drop in home values

Zillow, the real estate home-price research company, says the value of residential real estate ended its sickening drop in 2009. The firm's chief economist writes: "Total home values in the United States fell $489 billion in the first 11 months of 2009. A large drop, to be sure, but it marks a significant improvement from 2008, when homes lost a total of $3.6 trillion in values." Zillow says residential real estate values actually rose in 48 of the 154 markets it tracks.

The largest gains were in Providence, Boston and Denver. But markets including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City were still in trouble, based on data from January through November. Zillow speculates that low mortgage rates and government assistance programs are helping real estate values.