WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. sales of previously occupied homes rose in January to the second-highest level in three years, a sign the housing market is maintaining its recovery and helping to bolster the economy.
The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales rose 0.4 percent in January compared with December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.92 million. That was the second-highest sales pace since November 2009, when a temporary home buyer tax credit had temporarily boosted sales. The median price for a home sold in January was $173,600, an increase of 12.3 percent from a year ago.
Analysts say purchases would be higher if more homes were available. The supply of homes for sale dropped to nearly an eight-year low in January.
In December, sales declined to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.94 million from 4.99 million in November. The drop was linked, in part, to the limited supply of homes for sale.
For all of 2012, sales rose to 4.65 million, 9.2 percent more than in 2011 and the most since 2007. But even with the gain, sales were below the 5.5 million that economists associate with a healthy market.
Analysts foresee further improvement this year. Steady hiring and near-record-low mortgage rates have helped boost sales and prices in most markets. Still, sales are being held back by the low supply.
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