Published October 25, 2008

Latest US Data

Home sales record biggest gain since July 2003


SALES of previously owned US homes rose 5.5 per cent last month, the biggest gain since July 2003, and the inventory of unsold homes fell, a hopeful sign for a housing market mired in a long slump.

The National Association of Realtors said yesterday that sales of existing homes rose to a 5.18 million unit annual rate from the 4.91 million unit pace set in August. Economists had expected sales to rise to only a 4.93 million unit rate.

It was the first time the sales pace had risen above its year-ago level in three years, a sign the market could be stabilising.

The surprisingly large jump in sales pushed the inventory of unsold homes down by 1.6 per cent to 4.27 million, or a 9.9 months' supply at the current pace.

Home prices, however, showed no signs of escaping their long, deep slide. The median national home price declined 9 per cent from a year ago to US$191,600, the lowest level since April 2004, the industry trade group said.

The increase in sales was spurred by a rise in foreclosure and other 'distress sales' in regions of the country hard-hit by the ongoing housing downturn, said the Realtors' chief economist, Lawrence Yun.

'In some regions, the lower prices are seeing buyers return to the marketplace,' he noted. 'This was a nice jump and hopefully this trend can continue because the first step to stabilising the market is an increase in home sales.'

Sales rose in three regions, with the West recording a 16.8 per cent jump. The Midwest saw an increase of 4.4 per cent and the South saw a 2.2 per cent rise. In the Northeast, sales fell 1.2 per cent.

Housing has been suffering through its worst downturn in decades following a five-year boom that ended in 2006, and builders have been responded by cutting back drastically. -- Reuters, AP