Sales of existing homes were up 27.2 percent during the last three months of 2009 compared to the same period a year earlier, hitting a seasonally adjusted rate of 6 million, the National Association of Realtors reported today.

That’s a 13.9 percent increase from the 5.29 million annual rate seen during the third quarter, as homebuyers moved to take advantage of low interest rates and a tax credit that was set to expire but was ultimately extended and expanded by Congress, NAR said.

Sales increased from the third quarter to the fourth in 48 states and the District of Columbia, with 32 states seeing double-digit gains, NAR said. Year-over-year sales were higher in 49 states and Washington, D.C., and all but three states had double-digit annual increases.

Distressed property accounted for 32 percent of fourth-quarter transactions, down from 37 percent a year earlier.

The national median existing single-family price fell 4.1 percent year-over year to $172,900 —  the smallest price decline in more than two years, said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.

NAR said during that period, median home prices fell in 84 of 151 metropolitan statistical areas, but rose in 67 MSAs including 16 that saw double-digit increases. That’s an improvement from the third quarter, when 123 MSAs experienced year-over-year declines in median price, and only 30 posted increases.

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