Updated from 12:23 p.m.

Housing still looks to be on a roll.

Total existing-home sales in September remained at the second-highest level on record, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday.

Total existing-home sales -- including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops -- came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 7.28 million units in September, unchanged from August, according to the NAR. That level is only behind June's 7.35 million mark as the highest on record. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected a 7.2 million-unit annual rate in September.

"The general story here is that it was above Bloomberg consensus," says Phillip Neuhart, an economic analyst with Wachovia. "My first impression is that home sales remain strong in light of all the skepticism out there."

David Lereah, NAR's chief economist, said the near-record activity was supported by spiking home sales in the areas surrounding the hurricane disaster zones. From August to September, sales levels rose 3% in the South, but fell 4% in the West, dropped 3% in the Midwest, and inched up 0.8% in the Northeast.

In September, the national median existing-home price was $212,000, up 13.4% from $187,000 a year earlier but down from $220,000 in August. September's number marked the lowest monthly median home price since May of this year. However, since sales price numbers aren't seasonally adjusted like housing-unit sales numbers are, it may be misleading to make month-to-month comparisons.

Total housing inventory across the country rose 0.3% in September to 2.85 million existing homes available for sale. The inventory represents a 4.7-month supply at the current sales pace -- the same number as August.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average rate for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 5.77% in September from 5.82% in August. However, rates have since climbed above 6%.

The spike in mortgage rates, coupled with gas prices woes, could significantly affect consumers' decisions to buy a home in the near future. The Conference Board said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index dropped again in October to 85.0, below economists' forecast for a rise to 88.0 from a reading of 87.5 in September. The drop comes amid the recent hurricanes, soaring gas prices and a weakening labor market.

This month, consumers' expectations of buying a home within the next six months fell to the lowest level since November 2004, the Conference Board said. In September, expectations remained strong for buying a home.

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