Sales of existing homes in the United States rose 2.9 percent in April, according to an industry survey on Wednesday that supported views the three-year housing recession was near a bottom.
The National Association of Realtors said sales climbed to an annual rate of 4.68 million from a 4.55 million pace in March. That was slightly higher than market expectations for a 4.66 million-unit pace.
Most of the sales are taking place in lower price ranges and activity is beginning to pick-up in the mid-price ranges, but high-end home sales remain sluggish, NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun told reporters.
During the month, single-family home sales rose 2.5 percent to an annual rate of 4.18 million, while condos jumped 6.4 percent to a 500,000 annual pace. Home sales were up in three of the four regions.
U.S. financial markets showed little reaction to the data.
This report seems to offer another piece of evidence that home sales are stabilizing, said Zach Pandl an economist at Nomura Global Economics in New York.
Housing, which is at the heart of the 17-month old recession, is showing signs of stabilizing. Analysts reckon home sales and groundbreaking for the construction of new homes will probably reach bottom by mid-year.
Plunging home values and rising unemployment are forcing consumers to drastically cut back on spending, a factor seen holding back the economy from a quick recovery once the recession ends.
In April, the inventory of existing homes for sale rose 8.8 percent to 3.97 million. The median national home price fell 15.4 percent to $170,200, compared to the same period a year-ago. That was the second biggest percentage decline on record.
A separate report from the Federal Housing Finance Agency showed prices for U.S. single-family homes fell 7.3 percent over the 12 months ended in March. On Tuesday, the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller survey showed prices off 18.7 percent in March compared to the same period last year.
Distressed properties accounted for 45 percent of all sales in April and NAR's Yun said these were distorting the median home price.
Because foreclosed properties will likely be released into the market over the rest of the year, it is critical that distressed homes be quickly cleared from the market, said Yun.
He also urged the Federal Reserve to help restore liquidity in the jumbo mortgage market to boost sluggish high-end home sales.
A separate report from the Mortgage Bankers Association showed applications for home loans fell to their lowest level since early March as the highest lending rates in more than two months sapped demand for refinancing last week.
(Additional reporting by Ellen Freilich and Lynn Adler in New York; Editing by Andrea Ricci.)