WASHINGTON -- U.S. home prices accelerated in November compared with a year ago, pushed higher by rising sales and a tighter supply of available homes.
The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 5.5 percent in November compared with the same month a year ago. That's the largest year-over-year gain in six years.
All but one of the cities in the index posted annual gains. The largest gains was in Phoenix, where prices jumped nearly 23 percent. It was followed by San Francisco, where prices rose 12.7 percent, and Detroit, where prices increased 11.9 percent.
Prices also rose in half of the cities measured by the index in November from October. That's up from seven in October. The biggest monthly gains were in San Francisco, Phoenix and Minneapolis.
Monthly prices are not seasonally adjusted and frequently decline over the winter. The 20-city index dipped in November from the previous month.
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.
"Housing is clearly recovering," David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Case-Shiller index, who noted that prices are rising for both new and previously occupied homes.
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.
Sales of new homes also rose in 2012, although they remain near depressed levels.
Stable job gains and record-low mortgage rates have encouraged more people to buy homes. And the limited inventory of homes for sale has made builders more confident to step up construction. The number of previously occupied homes has fallen to an 11-year low.
Millions of homeowners still owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, making it difficult for them to sell. But higher home values are lowering the numbers of those "under water" and should encourage more homeowners to sell.
More people are also moving out on their own after living with friends and relatives in the recession. That's driving a big gain in apartment construction and also pushing up rents. That's also encouraging investors to buy homes and rent them.
The tighter supply of homes pushed builders in December to start work on the most homes in 4 ½ years. Last year was the best year for residential construction 2008, just after the recession started.