WASHINGTON -- U.S. home prices are falling again in most major cities after posting small gains over the summer and spring, the latest evidence that the troubled housing market won't recover any time soon.
The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index released Tuesday showed prices dropped in September from August in 17 of the 20 cities tracked. That was the first decline after five straight months in which at least half the cities in the survey showed monthly gains.
A separate index for the July-September quarter shows prices were mostly unchanged from the previous quarter.
David M. Blitzer, chairman of S&P's index committee, said that while the steep price declines seen between 2007 and 2009 appear to be over, home prices are down from the same time last year and do not show signs of easing.
"Any chance for a sustained recovery will probably need a stronger economy," Blitzer said.
Atlanta, San Francisco and Tampa, Fla., posted the biggest monthly price declines. Prices in Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix fell to their lowest points since the housing crisis began four years ago. Blitzer called the new lows reached in those three cities a "bit disturbing."
Prices rose in New York, Portland, Ore., and Washington.
Americans are reluctant to purchase a home more than two years after the recession officially ended. High unemployment and weak job growth have deterred many would-be buyers. Even the lowest mortgage rates in history haven't been enough to lift sales.
Some people can't qualify for loans or meet higher down payment requirements. Many with good credit and stable jobs are holding off because they fear that prices will keep falling.
Sales of previously occupied homes are on pace to match last year's dismal figures -- the worst in 14 years. And sales of new homes are shaping up to be the worst since the government began keeping records a half century ago.
"Despite record high affordability of real estate, the psychology of homebuyers is still being weighed down by economic uncertainty, keeping them on the fence when it comes to buying homes," said Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow.com, which measures home values.
The Case Shiller index covers half of all U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The September data is the latest available.
Prices are certain to fall further once banks resume millions of foreclosures. They have been delayed because of a yearlong government investigation into mortgage lending practices.
Home prices had stabilized in coastal cities over the past six months, helped by a rush of spring buyers and investors. But this year, prices in many cities, including Cleveland, Detroit, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tampa, have reached their lowest points since the housing bust more than four years ago.
Foreclosures and short sales -- when a lender accepts less for a home than what is owed on a mortgage -- are selling at an average discount of 20 percent.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.
Super Expensive Homes
Home Prices Stumble After 5 Months of Gains
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we thought we'd bring you homes that their eventual owners should be really, really grateful to afford. From an $125 million Bel-Air chateau -- the country's most expensive listing -- to a veritable fortress in New Jersey, these homes are truly some of the most mind-blowing mansions to ever filter the light of day (through ornate skylights of course). Feast your eyes on unmatched residential eye candy. Then, might we suggest, move on to turkey.
Location: Beverly Hills, Calif.
Price: $54.95 million
Sq. Ft.: 6,377
This carriage house, known as "Green Acres," doesn't deliver as many square feet as your typical uber-luxury home. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for with in lush tree-filled surroundings, gorgeous landscaping and extravagant interior. It has staff quarters, a private motor courtyard, eight stables, a guesthouse, pool house and gardens.
Located: Beverly Hills, Calif.
Price: $55 million
Sq. Ft.: 27,163
Though it has an old-world feel, this home has only been around since 2003. Sitting on 2.17 acres of coveted Beverly Hills real estate, the Mediterranean offers a 20-car garage and private tennis courts.
With its spires, this stunning estate resembles a castle more than a colonial (the home's listed style). Offering mountain views, the home is shielded by a ring of trees on its perimeter that also encircles its massive pool and tennis court.
Location: Indian Creek Village, Fla.
Price: $60 million
Sq. Ft.: 30,000
According to the home's listing, this mansion is the most expensive home in Miami. The certified-green home (it's making up for all the carbon dioxide used to build it) boasts light-filtering louvered walls, a gourmet kitchen, a "servant room," and 100-foot resort pool.
Location: Palm Beach, Fla.
Price: $74 million
Sq. Ft.: 27,355
The second-most-expensive house on "billionaires' row" in Palm Beach, Fla., this $74 million mega-mansion shamelessly pursues a level of extravagance matched only by its proletariat-galling inspiration: the French chateau.
The home includes a 4,000-square-foot master suite, eight bedrooms, a French kitchen (with an office for one of your prouder chefs), an art foyer and a 3,000-bottle bar. Pictured here is the home's lavish pavilion.
Location: New York
Price: $90 million
Sq. Ft.: 18,000
Built by retail chain magnate Frank Woolworth, the "Woolworth Mansion" is currently Manhattan's most expensive listing. Behind its limestone facade, this neo-French Renaissance home on Fifth Avenue has a grand foyer, floor-to-ceiling windows, a dining room that can fit 50 guests and an expansive library.
See more about the history of this famous mansion by viewing the listing.
Decorated with extravagant finishes, other highlights include multiple kitchens, offices and fireplaces. There appear to be seven floors in total. Yup.
This unfinished chateau, not-so-discreetly-nicknamed Versailles, boasts an outrageous 90,000 square feet -- well, when it's completed it will -- and sits on 10 waterfront acres of a gated community. The massive project includes plans for 10 kitchens... What?
Moving on, there are also 13 bedrooms and 23 bathrooms along with a 20-car garage, a bowling alley and an indoor roller rink.
A previous AOL Real Estate item on the home tells us that the mansion is the brainchild of real estate tycoon David Siegel, owner of the largest privately held time-share company in America. Siegel froze construction on the home when his company, Westgate, began to suffer in the economic downturn.
Location: Bel Air, Calif.
Price: $125 million
Sq. Ft.: N/A (but probably more than enough)
Topping our list, is this chateau-style estate that sits on four palatially-landscaped acres in the Bel-Air district of Los Angeles. The gated home offers a giant pool, 12 bedrooms, 15 bathrooms and exquisite interior details.