U.S. home-price appreciation picked up in December.

A measure of home prices in 20 U.S. cities gained 18.6%, up from 18.3% the previous month, the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index showed Tuesday. It was a bigger gain than economists expected and came after the growth in home prices had slowed slightly for four straight months.

In the Seattle area, prices ticked up 1.5% from November to December. Prices were up 23.9% in December compared with the same time in 2020, according to the index.

Seattle had the seventh-fastest price jump of the 20 major cities the index tracks, the same ranking held for the past three months. The index reflects single-family home sales in areas of King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. Last year, the median King County home sold for $828,111, according to separate data from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Phoenix reported the biggest year-over-year gain at 32.5%. It was the 31st straight month the Arizona city led the list, according to the data released Tuesday. Tampa, Florida, and Miami posted December gains of 29% and 27%, respectively.

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Demand for homes is still strong almost two years after the pandemic hit the U.S. With inventory in short supply, bidding wars are still common across the country, shutting out buyers who are stretching their budgets. Rising mortgage rates, meanwhile, are making it even harder for some buyers to find properties they can afford. 

Seattle Times real-estate reporter Heidi Groover contributed to this report.