PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- The leaves are dying and crisp breezes are blowing in, but real estate listings are getting some new life as the fall selling season heats up.Existing home sales are up more than 17% since last year, while the price of those homes has risen 13.5% over the same span, according to the National Association of Realtors. Meanwhile, the backlog of homes on the market has dwindled 5% from a more than six-month supply of 2.4 million in July 2012 to a 5.1-month supply of 2.28 million this summer. As a result, the percentage of "distressed" and foreclosed homes on the market dropped from 24% last year to 15% in July. "Mortgage interest rates are at the highest level in two years, pushing some buyers off the sidelines," says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. "The initial rise in interest rates provided strong incentive for closing deals. However, further rate increases will diminish the pool of eligible buyers." Z) reporting that 23.8% of mortgages are still underwater despite rising prices -- down from 31% last year, but still including nearly 60% of mortgages that exceed the value of their home by 20% or more -- there are still plenty of people looking for a way out. With help from the National Association of Realtors and Zillow, here are some hints for buying a home in the fall without getting left out in the cold by winter: 1. Treat it like a sale: If it works for cars and outdoor appliances this time of year, why not houses? According to National Association of Realtors numbers, there's a natural discount of about $7,000 after Labor Day. It's a bit less in the West or in the South, where the "cold" months only increase demand, but Midwest home prices fall by an average of $10,000 between August and September while Northeast prices drop nearly $20,000 by October.
2. Go where the people aren't: Wouldn't it be great to get a little ski cabin or a sunny place in a warmer climate before the snow comes? Yes, genius, just about everybody gets that idea around this type of year. If your heart is set on a cabin in Snowmass, Colo., or a sweet little condo in San Diego this fall, might we also suggest booking a hotel room in New York City near Rockefeller Center for Christmas or reserving a hotel room on South Beach during Spring Break. Ski resorts, leaf-peeping corridors and just about anywhere warm won't get fall discounts. If you're pining for some lakefront property in Minnesota or really want that bed-and-breakfast on Nantucket, however, the time to act is now. Sellers in the Northeast and Midwest know winter's coming and aren't about to let the salt chomp away at their car for another year. While their sentimentality is on ice, make an offer before they get too warm and fuzzy again. HD) and Lowe's ( LOW). If the house listing you love is a kitchen upgrade or central air system away from being a dream home, home stores and builders are discounting their inventory around this time of year and letting a lot of your essentials go cheaply. Then again, if you're buying a plot and building from scratch, those discounts not only add up, but bring in business for a homebuilding industry that's grown 12.9% in construction and 6.8% in sales since last year but is still building just about half the "normal" number of homes it completes in a year. -- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.