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Existing-home sales rise sharply

Existing-home sales rose sharply in December, when sales increased for the fifth time in the past six months, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Completed transactions of single-family houses, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops rose 12.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.28 million in December. Despite the surge, the figure is 2.9% below the 5.44 million-pace in December 2009.

"December was a good finish to 2010, when sales fluctuate more than normal," said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. "The pattern over the past six months is clearly showing a recovery. The December pace is near the volume we’re expecting for 2011, so the market is getting much closer to an adequate, sustainable level. The recovery will likely continue, as job growth gains momentum and rising rents encourage more renters into ownership while exceptional affordability conditions remain.”

The NAR's report followed by one day a disappointing housing-start report from the Department of Commerce.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $168,800 in December, which is 1.0% below December 2009. Distressed homes rose to a 36% market share in December from 33% in November, and 32% in December 2009.