Home Sales Are Picking Up

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Pre-owned homes are selling at the second-fastest rate since November 2009, according to the National Association of Realtors. Sales were up four tenths of a percent in January relative to December.

More good news: Over 9 percent more homes sold in 2012 than in 2011, and it was the best year for home sales since 2007. The median home price in January was $173,600, up 12 percent from this time a year ago.

Meanwhile, the supply of available homes is at a nearly eight-year low. 1.7 million houses are on the market. But construction of new homes is up almost 25 percent over a year ago.

The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage stands at 3.56 percent, but less than a third of buyers in January were first-timers. In better times, they usually represent more than 40 percent. Tougher loan qualification standards implemented over the past few years may be making it harder for those people to get low rates.

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