You probably didn't notice it last summer, but your personal financial balance sheet as a homeowner would have reflected it: During the three months ended Sept. 30, the market resale value of houses across the country rose at the highest quarterly rate this decade, according to new federal data.

In scattered areas, the jumps in values--and presumably in owners' equity--were astounding.

The steepest increase came in the District, where the third-quarter value gain on the typical single-family house was 5.9 percent, more than any state. At that pace, D.C. homes would gain 23.6 percent in value in a year. The District's appreciation also was the steepest in the nation in the 12 months ended Sept. 30, with prices rising 13.1 percent.

The numbers are stunning but statistically subject to greater distortion because of the small number of transactions in the District, compared with the states.

Other big gainers were Massachusetts (4 percent quarterly increase), Minnesota, New Hampshire and Colorado (all 3 percent).

Increases in Virginia and Maryland were more modest. Virginia homes appreciated 1.8 percent in the quarter and 5.9 percent over 12 months. Maryland values rose 1.1 percent in the quarter and 4 percent over a year.

Nationally, prices appreciated 1.7 percent in the quarter and 5.9 percent over the year, according to the figures gathered by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight. The agency uses a "repeat-sale" methodology that tracks a sample of nearly 12 million properties with multiple sale or refinancing transactions.

To put the price increases in context, consider these two facts: First, housing inflation data like this is extraordinary because the overall rate of inflation nationwide, as measured by the Labor Department's consumer price index, was just 2.6 percent for the entire 12-month period ending in October. Home value inflation in many parts of the United States is far outpacing inflation in just about every other sector of the economy.

Second, quarterly statistical data tends to be more volatile and subject to big moves up or down, compared with annualized data. For the most accurate impression of housing appreciation, take a look at the year-to-year performances in major markets nationwide.

On an annual basis, the rate of housing price appreciation was lower than the rate of inflation in only a handful of states. During that period, only one state--economically stressed Hawaii--saw its home values decline (minus 4.6 percent for the year, minus 3.5 percent for the last quarter). New Mexico (up 2.4 percent for the year), Alaska and Nevada (up 2.1 percent) and Utah (1.8 percent) lagged behind the national CPI rate during the last 12 months.

For homeowners and new buyers who prefer a longer perspective on property investment returns, here are the top housing-value markets for the last five years: Leading the pack are two states that have rebounded dramatically, Michigan (42.7 percent average appreciation) and Colorado (up 38.6 percent), in the 1990s after challenging years in the 1980s. Next comes Utah, where the appreciation rate cooled in the past year but still works out to a strong 36.5 percent over the last five years.

Tied for fourth place are Minnesota and Massachusetts with 34.8 percent gains. Next comes Oregon (up 34.3 percent), Georgia (up 31.8 percent), New Hampshire (29.7 percent), Arizona (28.9 percent), South Carolina (28.5 percent) and Nebraska and Kansas (27.9 percent).

During the last five years, the only state where the typical homeowner has experienced a net loss in property value is Hawaii, where values have declined an average 15.1 percent. The rest of the country is firmly in positive territory--the national average gain has been 23.9 percent--during the last five years.

Looking ahead to the next few years, is it possible to identify emerging high-gain markets?

Probably the best statistical predictor of near-future winners are markets that have under-performed the national index for years but have heated up for local economic reasons during the last 12 to 24 months. Some good bets for that list: Look to the East--the District, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut--along with Texas.