National home price gains slowed in the first quarter after a big push late last year but remained at a "boil" in some markets, according to real estate website Zillow.
Zillow's first-quarter home value index was up 0.5% from the fourth quarter of last year, it says.
That was compared with the 2.1% jump in the fourth quarter from the third, Zillow says, marking the smallest quarter-to-quarter gain since the home price recovery began.
The slower rate is "indicative of a market that is slowly finding its natural level," says Stan Humphries, Zillow chief economist.
Home prices have rebounded more strongly in the past year than many expected, and the sometimes dramatic run-ups in value were never expected to be sustainable, he says.
A home value index kept by John Burns Real Estate Consulting shows national prices up 5.7% in the first quarter of 2013 over the first quarter of 2012.
That's just a smidge slower than the 5.9% jump in the fourth quarter of 2012 over the fourth quarter of 2011.
"I was surprised by it. We're not getting any anecdotes that the market is slowing," says CEO John Burns.
Zillow's data show seven of the nation's top 30 markets saw a decline in home values in the first quarter.
New York saw a decline of 0.3% after three consecutive quarters of appreciation, Zillow's data show. Year-over-year, New York's prices were still up 1.2%.
Chicago saw the greatest depreciation, with values falling 1.4% in the quarter after a flat fourth quarter in 2012.
Zillow's home value index is calculated using actual and estimated sales data. Various home price indexes often come up with different values on a national and metro basis.
While the national pace of gain may have slowed in the first quarter, some metros still saw torrid increases.
Las Vegas and Sacramento, for instance, saw prices rise 7.1% quarter to quarter, the most of any of the 30 major metros in Zillow's study. That pace bested their previous quarter climbs of 5.8% and 6.1%, respectively, the data show.
On a year-over-year basis, Phoenix continued to lead with the biggest price jump, up 24% in the first quarter, Zillow says.
There have been some signs of slowing price growth in that market, says Mike Orr, real estate expert at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
Given the rapid run-up in prices, some people are getting priced out of the market and investors are slowing purchases, Orr says.
"It's still strong upward pressure," he says, but not "going up as fast as last year."
Zillow's data show values up 5.1% in the quarter year-over-year.
By Julie Schmit