Sales of previously owned homes rose unexpectedly from a record low last month, propelled by the biggest slump in prices since the Great Depression, the National Association of Realtors said.

Purchases rose 6.5% from November, to an annual rate of 4.74 million, the trade group said Monday. The median price dropped 15% from a year earlier — the biggest decline since records began in 1968 and probably the biggest in seven decades, according to the group.

The median estimate of 70 economists had called for a December rate of 4.4 million.

Sales fell 3.5% from a year earlier.

Last year the number of resales fell 13% from 2007, to 4.91 million, the lowest in 11 years.

The number of previously owned unsold homes on the market at the end of December represented 9.3 months' supply, versus 11.2 months at the end of November.

The median price decreased 9.3% last year.

Resales of single-family homes increased 7%, to an annual rate of 4.26 million. Sales of condos and co-ops rose 2.1%, to a rate of 480,000.

Last month's rebound was led by a jump related to distressed properties in the West, including California, Nevada, and Arizona, the trade group said.

Sales of distressed properties accounted for about 45% of all sales last month.

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