Long Island, like the nation, saw home ownership rates and median home values decline between 2007-09 and 2010-12, though the metropolitan New York area still had some of the highest median home values in the country, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report out Thursday.

Nassau and Suffolk counties had higher home ownership rates in 2010-12 than any other counties among the nation's 50 most populous cited in the report -- 80.4 percent and 78.9 percent, respectively. That held true despite modest declines in each county's rate since 2007-09.

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Several New York counties also posted the highest median home values in 2010-12 in a ranking of the nation's most populous counties.

New York County, which is Manhattan, topped the list with an estimated median home value of $812,300, down 3.3 percent from $840,100 in 2007-09. Nassau was ninth, with a median home value of $452,000, down 8.5 percent from $494,000 in 2007-09; and Suffolk ranked 15th, at $383,000, 11.1 percent below its median of $430,600 in 2007-09.

Local experts said their own data show that while housing prices remain below the peak achieved in 2007, they have begun climbing again, largely because of a lower inventory of homes for sale. Home purchases have been dampened by more stringent bank requirements since the recession, making it more difficult to get mortgages, they said.

"We're starting to see prices rise," said Jonathan Miller, president and chief executive of Miller Samuel, a real estate consulting and appraisal firm based in Manhattan. He said the median home price on Long Island, excluding the East End, was 4.1 percent higher for the third quarter of this year -- at $380,000 -- than the same period last year, when the median price was $365,000.

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"Housing prices are firming up because inventory is so low . . . because credit is tight," Miller said.

Richard Guardino, executive dean of the Wilbur F. Breslin Center for Real Estate Studies at Hofstra University, agreed, adding, people "are hesitant to put their homes on the market."

Nationally, the report found median home value declined $17,300 from the 2007-09 estimate, to $174,600 in 2010-12. Also, the national home ownership rate declined 1.7 percent, to 64.7 percent.

Median home values fell in the 44 Long Island communities whose data were included in the bureau's three-year American Community Survey of places with populations of 20,000 and above. Still, those values remained above the national median.

Among the "50 least populous" smaller communities ranked in the report, the hamlets of Syosset, Lake Ronkonkoma and Ronkonkoma had the highest median house value.

Syosset ranked third with an estimated median home value of $609,700, a 5.23 decline from $643,500 in 2007-09, the data show. Syosset had a home ownership rate of 91.8 percent in 2010-12, down from 95.3 percent in the prior three-year period.

Three other Long Island localities with slightly larger populations than those on the "least populous cities" list had even higher median home values in 2010-12: Dix Hills ($709,500), Garden City ($780,000) and Rockville Centre ($613,900).

With Maura McDermott