A jump in previously occupied homes and a rise in new construction suggest the housing sector may be headed for recovery.
Existing home sales rose 7.8% in August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.82 million units, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday. Total houses sold rose 9.3% from the same period last year and reached their highest level since May 2010, when buyers, spurred by a tax credit, closed deals on a seasonally adjusted 5.66 million homes.
Builders began construction on a seasonally adjusted 750,000 houses in August, up 2.3% from July, according to the Department of Commerce.
The number of first-time homebuyers slipped slightly, to 31% purchasers from 34% in July.
"The housing market is steadily recovering with consistent increases in both home sales and median prices," Lawrence Yun, the association's chief economist, said in a news release. "The strengthening housing market is occurring even with difficult mortgage qualifying conditions, which is testament to the sizable stored-up housing demand that accumulated in the past five years."
The median home price was $187,400, up 9.5% from August 2011. Housing supply rose 2.9%, to roughly 2.5 million homes for sale, an inventory that would take six months to draw down at the current rate.
Sales of distressed homes made up 22% of sales in August, down from 24% from July. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 19% below market in August, while short sales sold for 13% below market, on average.
A home spent a median 70 days on the market in August, roughly the same as in July, but down from 92 days a year ago.