The number of existing homes for sale hit a low not seen in more than a decade in November as sales climbed to the highest level in three years, providing continued support for prices, the National Association of Realtors reported today.

At $180,600, the national median existing-home price for all housing types was up 10.1 percent from a year ago — the ninth consecutive month of annual gains, and the longest streak since May 2006.

"Momentum continues to build in the housing market from growing jobs and bursting out of household formation," said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, in a statement. "With lower rental vacancy rates and rising rents, combined with historically favorable affordability conditions, more people are buying homes."

Sales of existing single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops were up 5.9 percent from October, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.04 million. That’s a 14.5 percent increase from a year ago.

The number of existing homes on the market was down 3.8 percent from October and 22.5 percent from a year ago, to 2.03 million — a 4.8-month supply at the current sales pace.

That’s the tightest months’ supply of inventory level since September, 2005. Many analysts view a six-month supply of housing as an even balance between buyer and seller demand.

The raw number of existing homes on the market was at the lowest level since December 2001, when there were 1.89 million homes for sale.

First-time buyers accounted for 30 percent of purchases, down from 31 percent in October. Distressed homes — foreclosures and short sales — accounted for 22 percent of November’s sales. Foreclosures sold at an average of 20 percent below market value, NAR said, while the discount on short sales was 16 percent.

The percentage of distressed home sales will likely drop into the teens next year, Yun said, as the number of distressed properties is shrinking. All-cash deals accounted for 30 percent of November’s sales — up from 29 percent in October and 28 percent a year ago. 

Existing-home sales, November 2012

Seasonally adjusted annual rate 5.04 million
% change from November 2011 +14.5%
% change from October 2012 +5.9%
National median price $180,600
% change from November 2011 +10.1%
Unsold inventory (months’ supply) 4.8
Share of all-cash buyers 30%
Share of investor buyers 19%
Share of first-time buyers 30%
Share of distressed sales 22%

Source: National Association of Realtors

All U.S. regions saw existing-home sales and prices swell in November from a year ago with the Midwest leading the way with a 21.4 percent year-over-year increase to 1.19 million units. The median price in the Midwest also rose in November from a year ago, up 7.0 percent to $141,600.

In the South, where sales jumped 17.2 percent from last November, the median price was up, too — 10.5 percent from last November to $157,400.

The annual pace of sales grew in the Northeast and West, too, up 14.8 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively. Median prices rose as well on a yearly basis in the regions, up 2.0 percent in the Northeast to $232,900 and 23.9 percent in the West to $248,300.

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