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Existing-Home Sales Ease

January sales drop 2.8% from December.

Existing-home sales fell, as expected, in January, while prices continued to rise across the country.

The National Association of Realtors said that total existing-home sales -- including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops -- dropped 2.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.56 million units in January from an upwardly revised pace of 6.75 million in December. Economists expected a 6.6 million sales rate in January, according to


. Sales were 5.2% higher than the 6.92 million-unit level in January 2005.

The national median existing-home price was $211,000 in January, up 12% from the year earlier, when the median was $189,000. The median is a typical market price where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less. The NAR says it only makes sense to compare pricing year-over-year and not month-to-month because of the seasonal nature of housing purchases.

David Lereah, NAR's chief economist, said sales are tracking the trend in the association's Pending Home Sales Index.

"Our leading indicator, based on pending sales, has been trending down since hitting a record last August," he said in a statement. "In the wake of interest rates peaking in November, I expect we are in a bit of a trough that may be followed by a modest rise and then a general plateau in the level of sales activity. Existing-home sales should stay below the record levels experienced over the last two years, but they'll maintain a historically high pace."

According to

Freddie Mac


, the national average rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 6.15% in January, down from 6.27 percent in December; the rate was 5.71 percent in January 2005.

Total housing inventory at the end of January was 2.91 million existing homes available for sale, representing a 5.3-month supply at the current sales pace.

From December to January, single-family home sales fell 1.5%, while condos and cooperative housing sales declined 10.6%

By region, overall sales in the South rose 2.6% from month to month, while the median price rose 5.3% year over year to $178,000. Sales in the West fell 3.5% during the month, while the median price grew 11.5% from a year earlier to $310,000.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales dropped 7.7% during the month, while the median price was $167,000, up 12.1% from January 2005. Sales in the Northeast fell 10% from December to Janaury, while the median price rose 9.5% year over year to $253,000.