WASHINGTON - Fueled by lower interest rates, sales of existing single-family homes increased in November, according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors.

Existing-home sales rose 4.4%, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.22 million units in November; the numbers represent a 1.4% increase over November 1999.

"Mortgage interest rates have dropped three-quarters of a percentage point since peaking in May, which is keeping sales strong in the closing months of the year," said David Lereah, the association's chief economist. "We expect a total of 5.01 million existing-home sales this year, making it the second strongest on record."

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 7.75% in November, down from 7.80% in October.

Existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 10% from October, to 660,000 units; 8.4% in the Midwest, to an annual rate of 1.16 million units; and 6% in the West, to 1.41 million. In the South, however, they slipped 0.5% in November, to an annual rate of 1.99 million.

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