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Originally published July 26, 2011 at 7:54 AM | Page modified July 26, 2011 at 8:16 PM

U.S. home prices inch up

A closely watched index of home prices in the largest U.S. cities increased from April to May, the second consecutive month of improvement, but experts attributed the bump to seasonal variations and prices continued to fall compared with those a year earlier.

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A closely watched index of home prices in the largest U.S. cities increased from April to May, the second consecutive month of improvement, but experts attributed the bump to seasonal variations and prices continued to fall compared with those a year earlier.

The housing market has been in the doldrums since last summer — with sales and prices falling — after the expiration of a popular tax credit for buyers.

Foreclosures and a sluggish jobs environment continue to weigh on the housing market.

Prices of single-family homes rose 1 percent in May from April but were down 4.5 percent from May 2010, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index of 20 metropolitan areas released Tuesday.

Over the past 12 months, prices have fallen in 19 of the 20 cities tracked.

In the Seattle metro area, home prices rose 1.1 percent from April to May — the third straight month-over-month increase. That was the 10th highest increase among the 20 cities in the index and right around the 20-city composite increase of 1 percent.

But Seattle area home prices are down 7 percent year-over-year, greater than the 20-city composite decline of 4.5 percent. Among the 20 metro areas, only Washington, D.C., had a year-over-year increase.

"We see some seasonal improvements with May's data," said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee.

"This is a seasonal period of stronger demand for houses, so monthly price increases are to be expected."

Among the 19 cities with year-over-year declines, Seattle's drop was 7th-worst. Cities with steeper declines were Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Portland and Tampa.

Information from Seattle Times reporter Eric Pryne

and the Los Angeles Times

is included in this report.

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