The sales rate for previously owned homes rose 12.3 percent in December compared to the previous month, but slid 2.9 percent compared to December 2009, the National Association of Realtors reported today.

There were an estimated 4.91 million sales of existing homes — including single-family homes, condos and co-ops — in 2010, the trade group reported, down about 4.8 percent from 5.16 million sales in 2009 — after rising 4.9 percent in 2009. The monthly data for December is considered preliminary and is subject to revision.

The estimated median price was flat in 2010 compared to 2009, at $172,500, NAR reported.

The median price in December was $168,800, down about 1 percent from the same month in 2009.

The inventory of for-sale properties dropped 4.2 percent in December compared to the previous month while rising 8.4 percent compared to December 2009. And the months’ supply shrank 14.7 percent in December compared to November, while rising 12.5 percent compared to December 2009.

NAR reported that the seasonally adjusted annual rate of existing single-family home sales rose 11.8 percent from November to December but dropped 2.5 percent compared to December 2009, while the rate of condo and co-op sales rose 16.4 percent in December and fell 5.2 percent compared to December 2009.

The median existing single-family home price dipped 0.2 percent year-over-year in December, while the median existing condo and co-op price dropped 7.4 percent.

Regionally, total existing-home sales dropped 5.4 percent in the Northeast, 4.3 percent in the Midwest, 2.5 percent in the South and 1.5 percent in the West year-over-year in December, with the median price falling 5.6 percent in the West and 1.4 percent in the Northeast while remaining flat in the South and rising 3.3 percent in the Midwest, NAR reported.

Distressed homes had a 36 percent market share in December, NAR also reported, compared with 33 percent in November and 32 percent in December 2009.

First-time buyers purchased an estimated 33 percent of homes in December, compared with 32 percent in November and 43 percent in December 2009, according to a NAR survey.

And investors accounted for an estimated 20 percent of transactions in December, compared with 19 percent in November and 15 percent in December 2009. All-cash buyers, meanwhile, had an estimated 29 percent market share in December, compared with 31 percent in November and 22 percent in December 2009.

"All-cash sales have been consistently high at about 30 percent of the market over the past six months," said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

The national average interest rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 4.71 percent in December, compared with 4.3 percent in November and 4.93 percent in December 2009, according to Freddie Mac.

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