US existing home sales jump as supply tightens

US existing home sales picked up in October despite the market in the northeast being shut down in the last days of the month by Hurricane Sandy, a realtors group said Monday.

Existing home sales rose 2.1 percent over September, hitting an annual pace of 4.79 million units, pulled up by a 4.4 percent rise in the West, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Sales in the South gained 2.1 percent, and the Midwest 1.8 percent, while the Northeast saw a 1.7 percent decline, in part due to the superstorm which wreaked havoc on the densely populated eastern New York-New Jersey region in the final days of the month.

Year-on-year sales nationally were up 10.9 percent from a year earlier, and the national median price, $178,600, was 11.1 percent higher.

"Home sales continue to trend up and most October transactions were completed by the time the storm hit, but the growing demand with limited inventory is pressuring home prices in much of the country," said NAR economist Lawrence Yun.

"We expect an impact on northeastern home sales in the coming months from a pause and delays in storm-impacted regions."

Around one-quarter of all sales were "distressed" sales: homes forced on the market by lender foreclosures and short sales, reflecting the still deep impact of the crash of the housing market six years ago, according to NAR.

The inventory of homes available for sale continued to tighten. Inventory dropped to a 5.4-month supply, at current sales rates, to its lowest level since February 2006, and down from 7.6 months of supply a year ago.

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