Home sales surge 7.4% in November, on federal tax credit

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

USA Today

WASHINGTON (AP) — Home resales surged 7.4% in November from October, to the highest level in nearly three years, as expiration of a federal tax credit spurred buying, the National Assocation of Realtors said Tuesday.

November sales rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.54 million, from a downwardly revised pace of 6.09 million in October.

Buyers were racing to complete their sales before the original expiration date of a tax credit for first-time buyers that was scheduled to expire Nov. 30. Last month, Congress decided to extend and expand the credit into 2010 to ensure the housing market could sustain its recovery.

The Realtors estimated that about 2 million homebuyers have taken advantage of the credit so far, and forecasts that another 2.4 million will use it by the middle of next year. First-time buyers made up about half of all transactions last month, driving sales 44% above last year’s levels, a record jump.

Sales of existing homes are now up 46% from the bottom in January, but down 10% from the peak more than four years ago.

The median sale price was $172,600, down 4.3% from a year earlier, but up 0.2% from October.

“Things are stabilizing,” said Pete Flint, chief executive of real estate website Trulia.com. “There is a significant amount of buyer interest out there.”

The inventory of unsold homes on the market fell about 1% to 3.5 million. That’s a healthy 6.5-month supply at the current sales pace, lowest backlog in three years.

Besides the tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time buyers, homeowners who have lived in their current properties at least five years can now claim a tax credit of up to $6,500 if they relocate. To qualify, buyers must sign a purchase agreement by April 30.

Pusing the deadline to April could mean sales will drop during the winter months and recover in the spring.

“Buyers have no sense of urgency now,” said Gary DeRosa, an agent with ZipRealty in Seattle.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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