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Existing-home sales jump 12.3% to cap rough year

Existing-home sales jump 12.3% to cap rough year (by Steve Goldstein)

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- Sales of existing homes jumped 12.3% in December, an encouraging end to the worst year since 1997, as the collapse in house prices and a wave of foreclosures depressed activity over the 12-month period. The National Association of Realtors on Thursday said existing-home sales rose from November's upwardly revised 4.7 million rate to a seasonally-adjusted annualized rate of 5.28 million, considerably beating the MarketWatch-compiled economist estimate of 4.88 million. The jump in the mortgage rate to 4.8%, a rise of roughly a half percentage point from depths, has helped induce on-the-fence buyers back into the market, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the NAR. The improving economy also helped confidence, Yun said. The annual tally of sales was 4.91 million, a drop of 4.8%, based on preliminary data. The median price of existing homes in December decreased 1.0% to $168,800, the lowest since February, and November prices were marginally revised lower to $170,200. Over the year, prices edged up 0.3% to $173,000, which was well below the $198,100 of 2008 and the $219,000 price in 2007.