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Existing-home sales and builder confidence rise

By Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times –

WASHINGTON — The housing market recovery showed signs it is continuing to strengthen as sales of existing homes increased 2.1 percent in October from the previous month and a measure of home-builder confidence jumped in November to its highest level since 2006.

Sales of existing homes rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.79 million last month, up from a downwardly revised 4.69 million rate in September, the National Association of Realtors reported Monday. Sales were up 10.9 percent in October from a year earlier.

Stronger demand helped push up the median home price nationwide to $178,600 in October, an increase of 11.1 percent from a year earlier, the group said. It was the eighth straight month to show a year-over-year increase, the first time that’s happened since 2005-2006.

Fewer houses on the market also helped drive price increases. There were 2.14 million existing homes for sale in October, down 1.4 percent from September. That translates to a 5.4-month supply at the current sales rate, the lowest level since February 2006.

Sales by distressed homeowners still accounted for a large chunk of activity. Foreclosures and short sales made up 24 percent of October’s sales. That was the same level as in September, but down from 28 percent a year earlier.

Superstorm Sandy had some negative impact on sales, the group said.

The Northeast, which was hit hard by the storm, was the only region to show a decrease in sales in October from the previous month. Sales were down 1.7 percent there, while they increased 1.8 percent in the Midwest, 2.1 percent in the South and 4.4 percent in the West.

“Home sales continue to trend up and most October transactions were completed by the time the storm hit, but the growing demand with limited inventory is pressuring home prices in much of the country,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the Realtors group.

He expected more of an impact in the Northeast in coming months.

The improving housing market led to a boost in builder confidence, according to a measure released Monday.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index rose 5 points in November to 46 from the previous month. It was the seventh straight monthly increase, lifting the index to its highest level since May 2006, before the crash of the subprime housing market.

The index remained below 50, indicating that builders who view sales conditions as poor still outnumber those who view them as good. But the index is up sharply from its 19 reading a year ago, the home builders group said.

“Builders are reporting increasing demand for new homes as inventories of foreclosed and distressed properties begin to shrink in markets across the country,” said Barry Rutenberg, a home builder from Gainesville, Fla., and chairman of the builders’ group.

“In view of the tightening supply and other improving conditions, many potential buyers who were on the fence are now motivated to move forward with a purchase in order to take advantage of today’s favorable prices and interest rates,” he said.

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