22 May  20121

The Wall Street Journal

Sales of previously owned homes in the U.S. grew in April, adding to signs that the housing market is recovering gradually from a nearly six-year downturn.

Existing-home sales increased 3.4% from a month earlier to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday. March’s results were revised downward slightly.

The results were better than expected. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had expected home sales would rise by 2.7% on a monthly basis from the previously reported March figure to an annual rate of 4.6 million.

April’s sales were 10% above the same month last year, and it was the tenth consecutive month of sales gains compared with a year earlier.

The median sales price in April was $177,400, up 10.1% from $161,100 a year earlier. It was the largest median price increase since January 2006.

However, the Realtors’ chief economist, Lawrence Yun, cautioned that the price increase resulted from a change in the mix of properties sold last month. Sales of lower priced foreclosures declined, while sales of more expensive homes increased.

Foreclosures and other distressed properties made up 28% of April’s sales, down from 37% a year earlier, according to a monthly survey taken by the Realtors’ group.

The inventory of previously owned homes listed for sale, meanwhile, increased 9.5% from March to 2.54 million at the end of April. That represented a 6.6-month supply at the current sales pace, a pace considered healthy by economists.

The housing market has improved slowly of late after a collapse in prices that started in summer 2006.

A major drag on the economy during the recession of 2007 to 2009, residential spending has added to the U.S. economy for four straight quarters. However, the overall economic climate remains uncertain.

The U.S. labor market has cooled after a strong start to the year. Earlier this month, the government reported that the economy added just 115,000 jobs in April, the second consecutive month employment growth failed to top the 200,000 mark. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, stayed at an elevated 8.2% last month.

The Realtors’ report said home sales rose compared with a month earlier in all out four U.S. regions. Sales in the Northeast grew 5.1%. They grew 4.4% in the West, 3.5% in the South and 1.0% in the Midwest.