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U.S. Existing-Home Sales Fall in December

January 25, 2005
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sales of existing homes in the United States fell by 3.3 percent in December from a record high in November, a trade association report showed on Tuesday.

Sales of previously owned homes decreased to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.69 million units last month from a downwardly revised 6.92 million unit rate in November, the National Association of Realtors said.

Analysts had expected sales to decline to a 6.80 million unit rate from November's originally reported 6.94 million unit rate.

"Our sense was that November sales were the peak for the current housing cycle, but activity remains strong," said David Lereah, the group's chief economist. "There is no sign of a downturn."

For 2004, home sales hit a record 6.68 million units, up 9.4 percent from the previous record of 6.10 million in 2003, and analysts said the market should remain strong in 2005.

"There is no sign in this data that this is slowing down. I think we may have seen a peak in housing starts, but we might go on to greater things in existing home sales as employment improves," said Kurt Karl, chief economist for North America at Swiss Re America.

Lereah said 2005 home sales should be the second-best year on record for the housing market.

Sales of existing homes were bolstered by low mortgage rates in December. The national average on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 5.75 percent, according to Freddie Mac. The average 30-year rate for 2004 was 5.84 percent, the second-lowest annual average since Freddie Mac began tracking rates in 1971.

The supply of homes available for sale at the current pace was 3.9 months' worth in December.

The national median home price rose 8.1 percent from the same month a year earlier to $188,900, the NAR report showed.

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