The housing recovery is being driven by lower prices combined with federal programs to lower mortgage rates and bring more buyers into the market. The median sales price was $173,100, down 7 percent from a year earlier and off roughly 2 percent from September.
Many experts predict prices will hit a new low next spring, perhaps falling another 5 to 10 percent, as more foreclosures get pushed onto the market.
The government has tried to counter that trend by offering a tax incentive for first-time buyers and by keeping mortgage rates around 5 percent since the spring.
The tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time owners was originally set to run out on Nov. 30, but Congress renewed it earlier this month and broadened its reach. People who have owned their current homes for at least five years can now claim a tax credit of up to $6,500 for a home purchase. To qualify, buyers must sign a purchase agreement by April 30.The Realtors' report on October home sales reflects offers made before buyers knew the tax credit would be extended. "The incentives really did get people to go out and buy," said Wells Fargo economist Adam York. "The question is: What does the trend look like when the credit is over with?" Home sales are likely to drop over the winter as buyers hibernate for a few months without the looming tax credit deadline.