Posted: Feb# 6, 2013 | 2:02 a#m#

WASHINGTON - U#S# home prices jumped by the most in 6½ years in December, with double-digit price growth in Nevada and the West leading the way#

Home prices nationwide rose 8#3 percent in December compared with a year earlier, according to a Tuesday report from CoreLogic, a real estate data provider# That is the biggest annual gain since May 2006#

Nevada ranked No# 2 in home price appreciation, at 15#3 percent# That was second only to Arizona's 20#2 percent# In California, an important feeder market for local tourists and relocating new residents, prices jumped 12#6 percent, the nation's fourth-best performance#

Other states in the top five were Idaho, where prices were up 14#6 percent, and Hawaii, where they increased 12#5 percent#

The report traced the price gains to a low supply of homes and rising demand#

Home prices nationwide also increased 0#4 percent from November to December# That's a healthy increase given that sales usually slow over the winter months#

Steady increases in prices are helping fuel the housing recovery# They're encouraging some people to sell homes and enticing would-be buyers to purchase homes before prices rise further#

Higher prices also can make homeowners feel wealthier# That can encourage more consumer spending#

Most economists expect prices to keep rising in 2013# Sales of previously occupied homes reached their highest level in five years in 2012 and will likely keep growing# Homebuilders, encouraged by rising interest from customers, broke ground on the most new homes and apartments in four years last year#

Ultra-low mortgage rates and steady job gains have fueled more demand for houses and apartments# More people are moving out into their own homes after doubling up with friends and relatives in the recession#

At the same time, the number of previously occupied homes for sale has fallen to the lowest level in 11 years#

"All signals point to a continued improvement in the fundamentals underpinning the U#S# housing market recovery," said Anand Nallathambi, CEO of CoreLogic#

Prices rose in 46 of 50 states in December# States where prices fell were Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania#

The housing recovery is also boosting job creation# Construction companies have added 98,000 jobs in the past four months, the best hiring spree since the bubble burst in 2006# Economists forecast even more could be added this year#

Housing has been a leading driver of past recoveries# But the bursting of the housing bubble pushed a flood of foreclosed homes on the market at low prices# That made it hard for builders to compete#

And a collapse in home prices left millions of homeowners owing more on their mortgages than their houses were worth# That made it difficult to sell#

Now, six years after the bubble burst, those barriers are fading# Some economists forecast that housing could add a point or more to economic growth this year#

Las Vegas Review-Journal writer Jennifer Robison contributed to this report#

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