U.S. existing home sales rise to 6-1/2 year high

Thu Sep 19, 2013 10:27am EDT
 
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By Margaret Chadbourn

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. home resales hit a 6-1/2 year high in August as buyers flocked back to the market to lock in cheap borrowing costs amid rising mortgage rates, a signal of continued strength in the housing market recovery.

The National Association of Realtors said on Thursday existing home sales increased 1.7 percent to an annual rate of 5.48 million units last month, the highest level since February 2007 when property values began to decline after the sector's boom and bust.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected home resales to rise to a 5.25 million-unit rate. The housing recovery has helped shore up the economy by bolstering household finances and supporting consumer spending.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the housing market may be experiencing a temporary peak as would-be buyers sitting on the fence are pushed to close deals ahead of likely price and borrowing cost increases.

"Rising mortgage interest rates pushed more buyers to close deals, but monthly sales are likely to be uneven in the months ahead from several market frictions," he said, pointing to tight inventory limiting choices in many real estate pockets.

Mortgage rates have risen in recent months after hitting a low of 3.35 percent in May, according to data from Freddie Mac. The rate for a 30-year fixed rate loan was at 4.5 percent as of September 19, hovering near a two-year high.

The Federal Reserve cited tighter financial conditions as one reason for its decision this week not to taper its stimulus program aimed at supporting growth, a surprise to investors and economists who had expected it to scale back bond-buying. Slower asset purchases would have pushed mortgage rates even higher.

Last month, the inventory of unsold homes on the market increased slightly and represented 4.9 months' supply at August's sales pace, the NAR said.   Continued...

 
Newly constructed single family homes are shown for sale in San Diego, California March 25, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake