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Published: Thursday, May 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Existing-home sales highest since late 2009

WASHINGTON -- Existing-home sales rose in April to hit the highest rate since November 2009, pointing to an ongoing recovery supported by low interest rates and pent-up demand, according to data released Wednesday.
Existing-home sales rose 0.6 percent in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.97 million, according to the National Association of Realtors, or NAR.
Sales of existing homes in April were 9.7 percent higher than during the same period in the prior year.
Pent-up demand is supporting sales, but tight credit standards and inventories are holding back gains, the group said. There are also head winds remaining from high unemployment, though the economy is adding jobs.
"Unless the regular turnover increases more aggressively, existing home sales growth could flatten out somewhat this year," wrote Yelena Shulyatyeva, an economist at BNP Paribas.
Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected the pace of existing-home sales to hit a rate of 5 million in April, compared with a prior estimate of a 4.92 million rate in March. On Wednesday, NAR revised March's rate to 4.94 million.
Meanwhile, median prices hit $192,800 in April, the highest since 2008, up 11 percent from the same period in the prior year, with low inventory supporting prices.
"Both first-time buyer and investor buying trends have remained steady over the past six months, suggesting that the recent rebound in home prices has not yet become an issue for buyers," according to a research note from Gennadiy Goldberg, U.S. strategist with TD Securities.
Inventories rose 11.9 percent in April to 2.16 million existing homes for sale. April tends to have the highest inventories of the year. The supply rose to 5.2 months in April from 4.7 months in March.
Distressed property sales fell to 18 percent of all transactions in April, the lowest since data collection began in 2008.
"We anticipate that this will continue to fall based on the pipeline of distressed mortgages," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist.

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