U.S. home sales in Nov. highest in 3 years

Sales of previously occupied houses rose 5.9 percent Sales of previously occupied houses rose 5.9 percent compared to October, the latest sign of a sustained recovery in housing. Above, information pamphlets displayed list information for potential home buyers at a South Bay Brokers property open house in Redondo Beach, Calif. (Sept. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Bloomberg News

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U.S. sales of previously occupied homes jumped to their highest level in three years last month, bolstered by steady job gains and record-low mortgage rates. The report was the latest sign of a sustained recovery in the housing market.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales rose 5.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.04 million in November. That's up from 4.76 million in October.

Previously occupied home sales are on track for their best year in five years. November's sales were the highest since November 2009, when an expiring federal tax credit spurred sales. Excluding that month, last month's sales were the highest since July 2007.

Sales are up 14.5 percent from a year ago, though they remain below the roughly 5.5 million that are consistent with a healthy market.

"The report is encouraging, and the positive momentum established in the housing market during 2012 appears likely to continue into 2013," Michael Gapen, an economist at Barclays Capital, said in an email.

Superstorm Sandy delayed some sales in the Northeast, the Realtors group said. Those delayed purchases will likely close in the coming months, though the increase will be modest.

Even so, sales rose 6.9 percent in the Northeast last month compared with October. Sales increased 7.2 percent in the Midwest, 7.9 percent in the South and 0.8 percent in the West.

Job growth and low home-loan rates have helped drive purchases. Prices are also rising, which encourages more potential buyers to come off the sidelines and purchase homes.

In addition, the excess supply of homes that built up during the housing bubble has finally thinned out. The number of previously occupied homes available for sale fell to nearly an 11-year low in November. The supply of new homes is also near its lowest level since 1963. At the current sales pace, it would take 4.8 months to exhaust the supply of homes for sale. That's the shortest such span since September 2005.

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