WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices rose at a healthy pace in December compared with a year ago, driven higher by rising sales and a smaller supply of available homes.
The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, released Tuesday, rose 6.8 percent in December compared with the same month a year ago. That's up from a 5.5 percent annual gain in November.
Nationwide, the report showed that prices rose 7.3 percent in 2012. That is similar to other home price measures that show a healthy gain last year.
Prices also rose in December compared with a year ago in 19 of the 20 cities tracked by the index. New York was the only metro area to show a decrease.
Steady price increases should help fuel the housing recovery. They encourage more people to buy before prices rise further. Higher prices also build homeowners' wealth, which can spur more spending and economic growth.
Purchases of previously occupied homes rose last year to their highest level in five years. The National Association of Realtors forecasts that sales will rise 9 percent this year. Independent economists have similar forecasts.