Sales of U.S. previously owned homes jumped more than forecast in December as buyers tried to lock in low mortgage rates before the economic recovery pushed borrowing up further.
Purchases of existing houses, which are tabulated when a contract closes, increased 12 percent to a 5.28 million annual rate, the most since May and exceeding the highest estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, figures from the National Association of Realtors showed today in Washington. The median price dropped 1 percent from a year earlier, and the share of sales represented by foreclosures climbed.
Buyers are returning to the housing market after a government tax credit expired in the middle of 2010, indicating the drop in prices and cheap lending rates are making homes more affordable. At the same time, unemployment in excess of 9 percent and record foreclosures are among concerns that have prompted Federal Reserve policy makers to follow through with a second round of quantitative easing.
“Home sales are improving slowly, but surely,” said Aaron Smith, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “We really need to see job creation pick up to ensure housing continues to recover. Housing clearly is still a weak spot in the economy.”
For all of last year, purchases decreased to 4.91 million, the fewest since 1997.