Existing-home sales inch higher in April

May 22, 2014: 10:48 AM ET

Home sales start key spring selling season with disappointing small rise

Existing-home sales grew 1.3% in April from the prior month, according to the National Association of Realtors, a modest increase for the beginning of the key spring selling season and well short of the 2.2% increase that economists had expected.

The trade organization on Thursday reported total existing-home sales climbed to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 4.65 million in April from the prior month, but declined 6.8% from a year ago. Some data recently has suggested the housing market's recovery has stalled in the U.S., concerns that picked up during the severe winter. The slowdown is worrisome for the industry as it heads into the key spring and summer home-buying season.

Lawrence Yun, the association's chief economist, said some growth was inevitable after sub-par housing activity in the first quarter.

"Annual home sales, however, due to the sluggish first quarter, will likely be lower than last year," Yun said.

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Regionally, monthly sales gains in the West and South offset a modest decline in the Midwest, while the Northeast was unchanged.

Total housing inventory at the end of April jumped nearly 17% in April from the prior month. The median existing-home price for all housing types in April was $201,700, which is 5.2% above last year.

Home-improvement retailers Home Depot Inc. (HD) and Lowe's Companies Inc. (LOW) this week affirmed their views about the housing market, saying while they don't expect the recovery to be as dramatic as last year, higher home prices and an aging housing stock in need of investment will boost sales.

The National Association of Realtors also reported properties sold faster for the fourth straight month in April, reflecting the prolonged lag in inventory relative to demand. The association said 41% of homes sold in April were on the market for less than a month.

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