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Home Sales Up 3.8 Percent for Quarter

Home sales rose in most of the country in the second quarter compared with the first, a trend driven by falling prices, lower interest rates, and a tax credit for first-time home buyers.

The sales increase is viewed as a positive sign that the struggling housing market is showing more signs of stabilization, even though foreclosures continue to escalate.

Existing home sales rose 3.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.76 million units in the second quarter from 4.58 million units in the first quarter, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). That is still 2.9 percent below the second quarter of 2008.

"We're seeing a growing percentage of metropolitan areas (with home sales) up over the year, which is impressive," says Joel Naroff, with Naroff Economic Advisors. "We're seeing growing strength in a variety of areas across the country."

But foreclosures are rising, and that's pulling down home prices. Foreclosure filings were reported on 360,149 properties in July, according to a RealtyTrac report Thursday. That's an increase of nearly 7 percent from the previous month and a jump of 32 percent from July 2008.

Thirty-nine states saw sales increases from the first quarter, and sales in nine states were higher than a year ago. Washington, D.C., showed both quarterly and annual rises.

Double-digit gains in sales between the first and second quarters were seen in Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Washington, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, Maine, Vermont, Wisconsin, Indiana, South Dakota and Montana.

"This data suggests that the recovery is broadening," says Lawrence Yun, chief economist with NAR. "Low interest rates and the tax credit (for first-time home buyers) are beginning to pull buyers back into the market."

But prices on existing homes are continuing to fall. The national median price for single-family homes was $174,100 in the quarter, which is 15.6 percent lower than during the same period last year.

The largest sales gain between the first and second quarters was in Idaho, up 67.5 percent, followed by Hawaii, up 24.2 percent. New York was up 22.3 percent and Wisconsin's sales rose 21.7 percent.

"It's important to see the growth because of the volume (of homes) out there," says Pat Lashinsky, CEO of ZipRealty. "We're seeing inventory come down and the market come back into equilibrium."

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