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Home sales, prices increase during fourth quarter

February 11, 2010 | 12:43 pm

Sales of previously occupied homes in the U.S. were robust during the last three months of 2009, climbing 13.9% from the previous quarter, a national group said Thursday.

Total existing-home sales, including single-family and condominium units, increased to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.03 million in the fourth quarter, a 27.2% increase from the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the National Assn. of Realtors.

Distressed property -- either bank-owned homes or those sold by homeowners who can't make their payments -- accounted for 32% of all transactions in the fourth quarter, a decline from 37% a year earlier.

Sales increased from the third quarter in 48 states and the District of Columbia; 32 states saw double-digit gains. Year-over-year sales were higher in 49 states and the district. All but three states registered double-digit annual increases.

“The surge in home sales was driven by buyers responding strongly to the tax credit combined with record-low mortgage interest rates,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors group. “With inventory levels trending down over the past 18 months, we expect broadly balanced housing market conditions in much of the country by late spring with more areas showing higher prices.”

The national median existing single-family price was $172,900, a 2.9% increase from the third quarter and a decline of 4.1% from the fourth quarter of 2008. The median is the point at which half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less.

The median price for a condominium in 54 metro areas was $177,300 in the fourth quarter, a decline of 4.8% from the fourth quarter of 2008. Eleven metro areas showed increases in the median condo price from a year earlier and 43 areas had declines. In the third quarter only four metros experienced annual price gains.

Sales of previously owned homes in the West jumped 16.2% in the fourth quarter to an annual rate of 1.38 million and are 18.2% above a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the West was $227,200 in the fourth quarter, a decline of 8.9% from the fourth quarter of 2008.

-- Alejandro Lazo