- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 (UPI) — The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday sales of existing homes, which include single-family, apartment, condominium and co-operative sales, jumped 8.6 percent in the fourth quarter, lifted by strong sales in Hawaii.

The NAR said existing-home sales rose in 45 states and the District of Columbia in the fourth quarter to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.55 million units from a 6.03 million unit pace during the fourth quarter of 2001.

The NAR said the strongest increase was posted in Hawaii, where the resale pace surged 33.9 percent from the same period a year earlier.

Nevada existing-home sales jumped 32 percent from a year earlier, while Alabama posted the third highest increase, up 22.3 percent.

Eighteen other states also recorded double-digit sales gains from a year ago. Sales declined in only four states.

NAR President Cathy Whatley said both demographics and economics are at play in the strong sales performance.

"Obviously, the low level of mortgage interest rates is the dominant factor, along with the fact that most people have good jobs that give them the confidence to go ahead with major purchases," she said.

"On top of that is a huge demand created by immigrants and the children of the baby boom generation, which has been entering the prime years for buying a first home," Whatley said.

David Lereah, NAR's chief economist, said there was a great momentum of sales activity moving into the fourth quarter.

"To a certain extent, it appears many of the buyers may have been in the market for a while and moved decisively as interest rates dropped to generational lows," he said.

"When you look at the corresponding rates of price increase, these are buyers who put their money on the table to get their share of the American dream," Lereah said.

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate on a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage was 6.08 percent in the fourth quarter of 2002, down from 6.29 percent in the third quarter.

Regionally, the report showed the West reported the strongest annual increase for the fourth quarter with a resale pace of 1.74 million units, up 14.8 percent from the fourth quarter of 2001.

The NAR said in the Midwest, total existing-home sales rose 9.2 percent to a 1.38 million-unit annual sales rate, in the Northeast sales rose 6.8 percent to 788,000 units and in the South, sales improved 5.1 percent to 2.64 million units.

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