updated 8/14/2009 11:41:19 AM ET 2009-08-14T15:41:19

U.S. home sales grew in the second quarter in 39 states, another sign that the ailing housing market is finally coming to life.

Total quarterly sales rose 3.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.76 million, from 4.58 million in the first quarter, but were still about 3 percent below a year ago, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday.

Sales posted quarterly gains of 20 percent or more in Idaho, Hawaii, New York, Wisconsin and Nebraska. But Alaska, Wyoming, California, Colorado and Michigan dropped by at least 6 percent.

Prices, however, were still down from a year ago in 129 out of 155 metropolitan areas the group tracks. The median sales price in the quarter was $174,100, almost 16 percent below a year ago.

The biggest drop, of nearly 53 percent, was in Fort Myers, Fla. Prices also fell 35 percent or more in Phoenix, Riverside, Calif. and Las Vegas. The biggest price gain, of nearly 31 percent, was in Davenport, Iowa, followed by Cumberland, Md., at nearly 22 percent.

Nationwide, foreclosures and distressed sales made up more than a third of all sales in the second quarter.

Many economists now say that the worst of the housing recession is over, though foreclosures are expected to rise over the next year.

Lawrence Yun, the trade group's chief economist, called the sales increase "a hopeful sign for the economy."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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