Home sales show surprise

Nationwide, existing home sales in July fell 13.2 percent compared with a year earlier, but rose an unexpected 3.1 percent compared with the prior month.

July's hike marked the fourth and strongest sales increase from a prior month in the last year, according to figures released this morning by the National Association of Realtors. The annualized sales rate of a little more than 5 million homes is the strongest since February.

Foreclosures and other distressed sales continued to drag on prices, pulling July's median existing-home price down 7 percent, to $212,400, compared with a year ago. Those bargain sales also drove some of the sales pop.

The annualized rate of sales has fluctuated in a narrow range since October. Month-to-month comparisons are useful for determining trend directions.

Sales had been expected to rise by only 1.6 percent, according to economists surveyed by Thomson/IFR, The Associated Press reported.

“We are not yet ready to call the current levels a bottom but clearly most of the declines are behind us,” Adam York, a Wachovia analyst wrote in a report this morning.

Charlotte area sales through the Carolina Multiple Listing Services dropped 30 percent last month compared with last July, reaching a six-year low. Prices also dipped. Month-to-month changes since March have been small, except for a sharp drop in April. The MLS captures most existing home sales within about a 50 mile radius and roughly one-quarter of new home sales.

Local experts have said they expect the second quarter to have been the region's weakest but don't forecast a strong or rapid rebound.

Here and nationwide, there are still a lot of houses available for sale. Foreclosures continue rising, mortgage rates have inched up, credit requirements are much stricter and would-be buyers wonder if they should wait for a better deal.

“We expect more balanced conditions in 2009 and will eventually return to normal long-term appreciation patterns,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors group.