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Home sales grow, aided by more stable prices

By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Home sales volume rose sharply in the final three months of 2010, aided by more stable prices on a year-over-year basis, a real estate industry group said Thursday.

Sales jumped 15.4% in the fourth quarter to an annual rate of 4.8 million units compared with 4.16 million a quarter earlier, the National Association of Realtors said.

Prices of single-family homes stabilized, rising 0.2% compared with 12 months earlier. The national median for homes sold during the period was $170,600.

"Home sales clearly recovered in the latter part of 2010, and are helping to absorb the inventory, including many distressed properties," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the Realtors' group.

Sales volume was particularly strong in the West region, up nearly 20% compared with the three months ended Sept. 30.

"A good portion of the sales activity in the West has been driven by investors taking advantage of discounted foreclosures, with high levels of all-cash transactions," said Yun.

The number of sales fell nearly 20% nationally, however, compared with the same period in 2009, when the homebuyer's tax credit was in effect.

"The tax credit clearly poached demand from the second half of 2010," said Jonathan Miller, CEO of Miller Samuel, a New York-based appraiser. "It artificially stimulated sales in the first half and artificially lowered it in the second."

Many housing market factors were favorable through the end of the year. Prices are very affordable for working families in most markets, interest rates are extremely low and bloated inventories offer a wide choice of properties.

The missing ingredient is a positive economic environment, specifically when it comes to hiring.

"An improving housing market and job growth will go hand in hand," said Yun. "The housing recovery will mean faster job growth."

He projects than a 300,000 increase in 2011 home sales will lead to the creation of about 150,000 to 200,000 jobs to the overall economy.

The survey revealed that single-family home prices held up better than those of condos. The national median for condos fell 6.4% compared with 12 months earlier, to $164,200. In some markets, condo prices have rarely been so affordable.

The median condo price in the Las Vegas metro area, for example, was just $60,700; in Phoenix, $68,900; and in Miami, $81,900. Reno, Nev., had the lowest condo prices in the nation, a median of $60,300.

As for single-family homes, Youngstown, Ohio, the old steel town struggling to find its way back into the modern economy, recorded a median of just $62,800 during the fourth quarter. That was a decline of nearly 14% from already bargain-basement prices a year earlier.

Toledo, Ohio at $74,500, Lansing, Mich. at $79,500, and South Bend, Ind. at $76,800 also recorded very low prices. Outside the Rust Belt, Ocala, Fla., was the lowest priced metro area at $80,200.

Honolulu had the highest single family home prices during the quarter, a median of $598,200. San Jose, Calif.'s median was $591,000 and San Francisco's was $558,200. To top of page

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