Prices and sales of previously occupied U.S. homes improved during the last three months of last year as low interest rates and a federal tax credit helped push buyers into the market, the National Assn. of Realtors said Thursday.
The median price of previously owned single-family homes rose in 67, or 44%, of the 151 metropolitan areas that participated in the group's fourth-quarter survey. Sixteen of the areas posted double-digit increases.
In the third quarter, with 153 areas reporting, only 30 showed price increases and 123 were down. The median is the point at which half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less.
The national median price for resold single-family homes was $172,900, a 2.9% increase from the third quarter but a decline of 4.1% from 2008's fourth quarter.
Total home resales, including single-family houses and condominiums, increased to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.03 million in the fourth quarter, up 13.9% from the third quarter and 27.2% higher than in the fourth quarter of 2008.
Distressed properties, either bank-owned homes or those sold by homeowners who couldn't make their payments, accounted for 32% of all transactions in the fourth quarter, a decline from 37% a year earlier.
"The surge in home sales was driven by buyers responding strongly to the tax credit combined with record-low mortgage interest rates," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors group. "With inventory levels trending down over the past 18 months, we expect broadly balanced housing market conditions in much of the country by late spring with more areas showing higher prices."