AP Real Estate Writer
New York â€” Home prices tumbled by the steepest annual rate on record in the fourth quarter, two housing indexes showed Tuesday, and the pace of decline continued to gain speed in all but a handful of battered cities.
The more prices fall, the fewer homeowners may be able to qualify for President Barack Obama’s mortgage relief plan. Last week, the president estimated up to 5 million borrowers in good standing who don’t owe more than 105 percent of their home’s current value would be able to refinance into a lower interest-rate loan.
Though details of the plan won’t be released until March 4, almost 14 million homeowners are already under water, according to Moody’s Economy.com, meaning they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Nationally, home prices have receded to 2003-levels, and half of the metro areas in the 20-city Case-Shiller Home Price Index have lost more than 20 percent of their values from their peaks in 2006, including Las Vegas, Phoenix and Miami.
Americans are feeling grim about the prospects of any turnaround. Consumer confidence index sank to new lows in February as huge job cuts, shrinking retirement accounts and plunging home prices fueled fears, the Conference Board said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said Tuesday that home prices dropped 8.2 percent from a year earlier, its largest annual decline on record since 1991.
On Wednesday, the National Association of Realtors releases its existing home sales data for January and the Commerce Department releases its new home sales figures for January on Thursday.