The seasonally adjusted annual rate of existing-home sales fell 4.3 percent in January compared to the same month in 2006, while the U.S. median home price dropped 3.1 percent, the National Association of Realtors trade group reported today.

Total existing-home sales — including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops — reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.46 million units in January compared with a revised pace of 6.27 million in December. It was the highest monthly sales rate in seven months.

The annual rate is a projection of a monthly sales total over a 12-month period, adjusted for seasonal variations in sales activity.

“Although we’re expecting existing-home sales to gradually rise this year, and buyers are responding to the price correction, some unusually warm weather helped boost sales in January,” David Lereah, chief economist for the Realtor group, said in a statement. “On the flip side, the winter storms that disrupted so much of the country in February could negatively impact the housing market.

The weather events, Lereah said, “are unusually large — many transaction closings were postponed in February, and home shopping was essentially shut down for about a week in many areas.”

Total housing inventory levels rose 2.9 percent at the end of January to 3.55 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 6.6-month supply at the current sales pace — unchanged from the revised December level. A supply of six months is generally considered to represent a balanced market while a supply greater than six months can represent a buyer’s market.

The January supply is 29.4 percent higher than the January 2006 supply. Supplies peaked at 7.4 months in October.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $210,600 in January. The median is a typical market price where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 6.22 percent in January, up from 6.14 percent in December; the rate was 6.15 percent in January 2006.

Single-family home sales rose 3.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.69 million in January from a revised rate of 5.5 million in December, and were 4.2 percent below the 5.94 million-unit level in January 2006. The median existing single-family home price was $209,200 in January, down 3.5 percent compared to January 2006.

Existing condominium and cooperative housing sales dropped 5.7 percent in January compared to January 2006, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 767,000 units. The median existing condo price was $222,200 in January, up 0.5 percent compared to January 2006. The monthly supply of condos and co-ops was 7.7 months in January, up 30.5 percent compared with 5.9 months in January 2006.

Regionally, total existing-home sales dropped 9.4 percent in the West compared to January 2006 and fell 4.5 percent in the South while rising 1.3 percent in the Midwest and 5.2 percent in the Northeast.

The median sales price fell 4.6 percent in the West, 3.5 percent in the Midwest, 1.7 percent in the South and 1.2 percent in the Northeast in January compared to the same month a year earlier, while the average price fell 6.4 percent in the Midwest, 4.1 percent in the West, 1.4 percent in the South and 0.8 percent in the West in January compared to January 2006.

The Realtor association noted that it has made revisions to monthly seasonally adjusted annual sales rates for 2004 through 2006 and the inventory month’s supply data.

Existing-home sales are based on transaction closings. Statistics generally account for 85 percent of total home sales and are based on a sample of about 40 percent of multiple listing service data each month.

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