Assistant Editor-Albuquerque Business First

The housing market recovery picked up steam as prices shot up 7.3 percent in 2012, according to a closely-watched reading released today.

The report from S&P Case-Shiller covered home prices across 20 major housing markets nationwide in the final three months of the year. It came ahead of a government report due later in the day which was expected to show a continued rise in new home sales, according to CNN.

The home price increase marks the third straight quarter of year-over-year gains in prices. Before the market began to turn around, there had been only two quarters over the previous five years that showed improved pricing. That short-term blip was caused by a temporary home buyer’s tax credit that expired in 2010, CNN reported.

This time the improvement is driven by fundamental factors, including near record-low mortgage rates, a drop in the number of home foreclosures, a tight supply of homes available for sale, and an improvement in the overall economy, including a lower unemployment rate, according to CNN. The resulting rise in home prices is the biggest annual increase posted since the second quarter of 2006, near the height of the housing boom.

But the report suggests housing may not be able to continue to grow at this rate,CNN reported.