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US existing home sales flat in August: survey

Total sales hold steady at annual rate of 5.34m units, after four months of declines; prices continue to rise


SALES of existing homes in the United States held steady in August, pausing after four straight months of declines, according to an industry survey released on Thursday.

But prices continued to rise even though the volume of homes on the market held steady, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Analysts say the housing sector is the lone dark spot in the US economy, and is unlikely to contribute to GDP growth this year. Total sales of existing single-family homes, townhouses, condos and co-ops held at an annual rate of 5.34 million units, seasonally adjusted, the same as July, which was the lowest in nine months.

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Economists had predicted a small increase. Sales were 1.5 per cent below August of last year.

"Strong gains in the Northeast and a moderate uptick in the Midwest helped to balance out any losses in the South and West, halting months of downward momentum," NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said.

"With inventory stabilising and modestly rising, buyers appear ready to step back into the market," he added.

The median price rose 4.6 per cent over August of last year to US$264,000, marking the 78th straight month of increases.

The inventory of available homes for sale was unchanged from July at 1.92 million, up from 1.87 million a year earlier and representing a supply of 4.3 months at the current sales pace.

Economists say rising material costs and a labour shortage have held down construction, constraining already tight supplies and making homeownership less affordable just as mortgage rates rise and as Congress reduces income tax deductions for local property taxes.

Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said despite the pause in the downward sales trajectory last month, there was "nothing to suggest that a sustainable recovery is likely anytime soon". AFP