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Sales of existing single-family homes rose in December and set a new annual record in 2002, the National Association of Realtors said.

Existing-home sales increased 5.2% in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.86 million units, from an upwardly revised level of 5.57 million units in November.

There were a total of 5,563,000 existing-home sales in 2002, up 5% from the previous record of 5,296,000 in 2001. NAR began tracking the sales series in 1968.

The association's chief economist, David Lereah, cited favorable market conditions for the record housing activity. "Exceptionally low mortgage interest rates are the primary factor in record levels of home sales," he said. "Interest rates are the lowest they've ever been in Freddie Mac's records, and looking at other sources we have to go back to 1965 to see similar mortgage rates."