Existing U.S. home sales climb to 4.92 million rate

Philadelphia Manufacturing

Another report showed manufacturing in the Philadelphia region unexpectedly contracted in February for a second month. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s general economic index dropped to minus 12.5, the lowest reading since June, from minus 5.8 in January. Readings lower than zero signal contraction in the area covering eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.

The median price of an existing home rose 12.3% to $173,600 last month from January 2012, today’s Realtors’ report showed.

The number of previously owned homes on the market fell 4.9% to 1.74 million, the fewest since December 1999. At the current sales pace, it would take 4.2 months to sell those houses, the shortest time since April 2005, compared with 4.5 months at the end of the prior month.

Months’ supply around 6 months is consistent with stable home prices, the group has said.

“Inventory has increasingly become the story of the housing market,” Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said in a news conference as the figures were released. “We do expect some relief in inventories as the spring season comes around.” He also said that “only the homebuilders can truly relieve the inventory” shortage, he said.

Cash Transactions

Of all purchases, cash transactions accounted for about 28%, compared with 29% in December. Investors, who account for most cash sales, purchased 19% of homes in January, down from 21% a month earlier.

Distressed sales, comprised of foreclosures and short sales, in which the lender agrees to a transaction for less than the balance of the mortgage, accounted for 23% of the total, down from 35% a year ago.

Sales of existing single-family homes increased 0.2% to an annual rate of 4.34 million. Purchases of multifamily properties -- including condominiums and townhouses -- rose 1.85 to a 580,000 pace.

Purchases climbed in three of four regions, led by a 4.8% gain in the Northeast. Demand increased 3.6% in the Midwest and 1% in the South.

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