Federal figures on home prices confirm that the region isn’t yet part of the U.S. rebound in housing, but we’re not as bad off as the first data from the Realtors looked.

A little earlier this month, the National Association of Realtors reported the first quarter median home price for the Atlantic-Cape May-Cumberland counties region fell 5 percent from the same period a year ago.

With home prices still down by double digits from their 2006 peak, and with the housing rebound expected to lead an economic recovery, a continuing decline of that magnitude would be tough.

But the latest take on area home prices, from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, reported Atlantic County prices dropped less than 3 percent in the first quarter from the year before, and actually increased nearly 2 percent in Cape May County. In Cumberland County, prices fell a bit more than 3 percent for the 12-month period.

The FHFA said U.S. sale prices of houses increased nearly 7 percent in the year to the first quarter of 2013. The county-level figures also include mortgage refinancings.

There’s reason to think the FHFA data is more reliable: It tracks the price changes of particular homes, so that if more or fewer high-end homes happen to sell during a period it doesn’t distort the picture.

The Realtors, in the longest running of such a home price survey, simply total up the prices of all the homes that sold and compare that to the total for the prior period. So if more lower-end houses sold, that alone could make prices look like they’re falling.

And that may well have been the case in the region and New Jersey, where foreclosures and short sales are reaching the market after being held up by the courts, and where professionals say there is insufficient quality housing inventory to meet demand for it.

Others believe the N.J. housing market is still feeling the effects of Hurricane Sandy, with some homes selling for less due to damage or expected increases in flood insurance premiums.

Free training

Free is the best price, especially if your business is trying to ride out the longest economic slump of our lives.

That’s the cost of customer service training for frontline employees next month from the continuing studies department at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 11 (at Cape May Convention Hall), June 12 (at Ocean City Library) and June 13 (at Wildwoods Convention Center), the department will train employees in such things as identifying customer needs, interacting with customers and communication skills.

Employers are required to pay their staff their normal wages for the training period.

Interested businesses must submit an application form (online at http://library.constantcontact.com/download/get/file/1103629101913-574/Customized+Training+Business+PreQualification+Form.pdf) to Nicole Milan-Tyner no later than Tuesday, May 28.

Milan-Tyner may be reached at 609-626-3458 or at Nicole.Milan-Tyner@stockton.edu.

Utility handbook

Probably more than you’d ever want to know about utilities and their regulation in New Jersey can be found in the new Consumer Assistance Handbook from the N.J. Division of the Rate Counsel.

Helpful sections include how to select providers, how to reduce utility bills, and how to file a complaint against a telephone, electric, gas, cable or water utility.

The handbook may be ordered or downloaded from www.state.nj.us/rpa/information/cah2013.html.

Contact Kevin Post:

609-272-7250

More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.