Demand from first-time homebuyers helped drive a 9.4 percent increase in sales of existing homes from August to September, the National Association of Realtors said today, continuing a trend of increasing sales in five out of the last six months.

At a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million, sales of existing single-family, townhome, condominium and co-op properties in September were also up 9.2 percent from a year ago.

Demand from first-time homebuyers helped drive a 9.4 percent increase in sales of existing homes from August to September, the National Association of Realtors said today, continuing a trend of increasing sales in five out of the last six months.

At a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million, sales of existing single-family, townhome, condominium and co-op properties in September were also up 9.2 percent from a year ago.

That’s the highest rate of sales in more than two years — a mark last exceeded in July 2007 when homes were selling at an annual pace of 5.73 million, NAR said.

Total housing inventory at the end of September fell 7.5 percent, to 3.63 million existing homes — 7.8 months of supply at the current sales pace. That’s down from an 9.3-month supply in August, and closer to the six months of supply that is widely considered a healthy balance between supply and demand.

Much of the momentum is from buyers taking advantage of the first-time homebuyer tax credit, which is scheduled to expire Nov. 30, NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a press release.

Early information from an annual consumer study to be released Nov. 13 shows first-time home buyers accounting for more than 45 percent of home sales in the past year, NAR said.

"… With the first-time buyer tax credit scheduled to expire at the end of next month, people could hold back from entering the market," NAR President Charles McMillan warned in a press release restating the group’s calls for an extension of the credit. …CONTINUED

NAR reported that the median existing-home price fell 8.5 percent in September from a year ago, to $174,900. Distressed properties accounted for 29 percent of sales and continued to "downwardly distort" the median price by selling at a discount relative to traditional homes in the same area, NAR said.

Single-family home sales rose 9.4 percent from August to September, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million, a 7.7 percent gain from a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $174,900, down 8.1 percent from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were up 9.7 percent from August to September, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 680,000 units, a  21.2 percent increase from a year ago. The median existing condo price was $175,100 in September, down 11.7 percent from a year ago.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 4.4 percent from August to September to an annual rate of 950,000, an 11.8 percent increase from a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was down 7 percent from a year ago, to $234,700.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest were up 9.6 percent from August to September, to an annual pace of 1.25 million, which was a 7.8 percent increase from a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $147,600, down 1 percent from a year ago.

In the South, existing-home sales rose 9 percent from August to September, to an annual level of 2.06 million, up 10.8 percent from a year ago. The median price in the South was $153,500, down 7.6 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West grew 13 percent from August to September, to an annual rate of 1.3 million, up 5.7 percent from a year ago. The median price in the West was $219,000, down 15 percent from a year ago.

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