Home sales tick up nationally

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 Monday by the National Association of Realtors. The annualized sales rate of a little more than 5 million homes is the strongest since February.

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

“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 Monday.

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

Nationwide, 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 Charlotte market posted record sales in 2006 as much of the nation saw housing slow, but the slump hit locally last year. This year, through June, declines have outpaced the national average. However, the 37 percent second-quarter sales decline, while severe, was only slightly worse than the drop in the previous three months.

Last month, Charlotte-area sales through the Carolina Multiple Listing Services were unchanged compared with June. However, they were down 30 percent from a year earlier, to at least a six-year low. 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.

Here and nationwide, there are still a lot of houses available for sale. Foreclosures continue rising, credit requirements are much stricter and would-be buyers await better deals.

“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.