Are the Chicago Case-Shiller numbers good or bad?

My idea of roughing it is staying in a Days Inn. So I considered it living like a mountain man this weekend when my family and I went camping just over the border in Wisconsin. I was staying in a lodge, complete with shower, TV and kitchen. But there were bugs all over the place, so that counts as rustic.

It rained most of Saturday morning, so many of the campers huddled inside these lodges. Another family and ours got to talking. When the family found out that I wrote about Chicago real estate, the father of the group immediately asked me the big question: “Is the Chicago housing market getting better?”

I gave him the only answer I could give: “I have no idea.”

Just look at the latest numbers from the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Index. This index is an important one, one that economists look to when determining the health of the housing markets in the country’s largest cities. According to a recent story on the Chicago Tribune’s Breaking News site, the latest Case-Shiller index shows that Chicago housing prices rose 1.2 percent from April to May of this year.

That’s good news. Unfortunately, Chicago housing prices were down 1.5 percent in May of this year when compared to the same month one year earlier. Depending on how liberal you want to be with the definition of “good,” the Case-Shiller survey had one more piece of good news for Chicago home sellers: While housing prices this May were down in Chicago from the same month one year earlier, they weren’t down by as much as they were in 2009. In May of 2009, housing prices in the Chicago area had dropped 17.5 percent from the same month one year earlier.

This is what makes predicting the health of the Chicago housing market so difficult. You can find both good and bad news in just about any study that comes out.

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