For the second straight month after hitting a record low in July, existing-home sales climbed in September from the month before, according to a monthly report from the National Association of Realtors.

Sales of single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops jumped 10 percent last month, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.53 million from a downwardly revised 4.12 million in August, the report said.

That’s a 19.1 percent drop from the rate in September 2009 — a drop the association attributed buyers "ramping up" before the original November deadline for the federal homebuyer tax credits last year.

"A housing recovery is taking place but will be choppy at times depending on the duration and impact of a foreclosure moratorium. But the overall direction should be a gradual rising trend in home sales with buyers responding to historically low mortgage interest rates and very favorable affordability conditions," said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, in a statement.

Single-family home sales rose 10 percent month-to-month in September and fell 19.5 percent year-over-year, to 3.97 million. Condo and co-op sales rose 9.8 percent month-to-month and dropped 16.2 percent year-over-year, to 560,000.

The national median price for existing homes fell 2.4 percent from September 2009, to $171,700. Distressed properties may be a factor in the drop: they made up 35 percent of sales last month, compared to 34 percent in August and 29 percent in September 2009.

Unsold inventory fell 1.9 percent from August, but rose 8.9 percent compared to September of last year, to 4.04 million units. That’s 10.7 months’ supply at the current sales pace — a supply of six months is considered to be a rough balance between a buyer’s market and a seller’s market.

"Vacant homes and homes where mortgages have not been paid for an extended number of months need to be cleared from the market as quickly as possible, with a new set of buyers helping the recovery along a healthy path," Yun said.

"Inventory remains elevated and continues to favor buyers over sellers. A normal seasonal decline in inventory is expected through the upcoming months."

Regionally, the month-to-month seasonally adjusted sales rate rose the most, 14.5 percent, in the Midwest, to 950,000. The region experienced the biggest year-over-year drop in sales, however (-26.4 percent). Prices also dropped most sharply in the Midwest: -5.2 percent from September 2009, to $139,700.

The South saw the smallest year-over-year drop in sales, 14.9 percent, to 1.77 million. On a month-to-month basis, sales in the region rose 10.6 percent. The median price fell 2.6 percent in the region, to $149,500.

The West saw the smallest month-to-month rise in the sales rate, up 5 percent, to 1.05 million. Sales there fell 16.7 percent year-over-year. And the median price fell 4.9 percent, to $213,600.

In the Northeast, month-to-month sales fell 10.1 percent, to 760,000. Sales fell 20.8 percent year-over-year. The region also saw the smallest median-price drop from September 2009: -1.4 percent, to $239,200.

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