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A home is seen for sale in the Washington suburb of Takoma Park, Maryland, in this file photo.

JIM BOURG/Reuters

U.S. single-family home prices picked up in December, closing out 2012 with the biggest yearly gain in more than six years as the housing market got back on its feet, a closely watched survey showed on Tuesday.

The S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas rose 0.9 per cent in December on a seasonally adjusted basis, topping expectations for a gain of 0.5 per cent.

On a non-adjusted basis, prices were up 0.2 per cent.

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"Home prices ended 2012 with solid gains," David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said in a statement.

"Housing and residential construction (led) the economy in the 2012 fourth quarter."

Prices in the 20 cities jumped 6.8 per cent year-over-year, ahead of expectations for 6.6 per cent and the best yearly gain since July 2006.

For the final quarter of the year, prices gained 2 per cent on a seasonally adjusted basis.

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