By Chris Isidore@CNNMoneyJanuary 22, 2013: 10:39 AM ET
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)
Steady December home sales capped the best year for the U.S. real estate market in five years, according to an industry trade group report Tuesday.
The National Association of Realtors said that December sales of previously-owned homes came in just slightly below November's sales pace, but up 12.8% from a year ago. That brought full-year sales to 4.65 million, up 9% from 2011 and the best year for home sales since 2007, when there were 5 million homes sold just before the start of the recession.
The improved demand for homes in December led to the inventory of homes for sale to fall to 1.82 million homes on the market, the lowest supply since January 2001. One factor in tightening supplies is a drop in foreclosures and other distressed home sales, which made up only 24% of home sales in December compared to 32% a year ago. The tighter supply, and the drop in distressed sales, have helped to lift home prices so that the median sales price for the year rose to $176,600, up 6.3% from 2011. That's the biggest gain in prices in since the bubble year of 2005.
How to play the 2013 housing market
The rebound in the market for previously-owned homes is also showing up in the market for new homes, where sales rebounded to their highest levels since 2009, while housing starts reached the highest level since 2008.