Next year finally will bring the end of a three-year slump in housing prices in the Philadelphia region and across the country, economists say.

The decline from the peak in the second quarter of 2007 to the trough at the end of next year is projected to be 15 percent in Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs, according to Celia Chen, an economist at Moody's Economy. com in West Chester.

Citing the Fiserv Case-Schiller Home Price Index, Chen said conditions in South Jersey were worse, with average prices - in line with the national trend - likely to bottom out late next year at 30 percent below their peak in 2006.

The persistent slide has Toll Bros. Inc., of Horsham, biding time, luxuriating in a cash stockpile and cutting its developments to 255 from its peak of 325 in early 2007.

Residential real estate has been at the center of the nation's economic maelstrom, but its commercial cousin could start wreaking more havoc for banks as the recession victimizes more tenants of office buildings and shopping centers.

- Harold Brubaker