updated 1/25/2005 11:12:34 AM ET 2005-01-25T16:12:34

Sales of previously owned homes rose 9.4 percent to an all-time high of 6.68 million units last year as home buyers continued to enjoy some of the lowest mortgage rates in decades.

Major Market Indices

Sales of existing homes last year were well above the 6.10 million sold in 2003, the National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday.

It marked the fourth straight year that sales of existing homes had set a record. Sales of new homes are also expected to set a record for all of 2004 when that figure is reported later this month.

For December, sales dipped a slight 3.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.69 million units, off only slightly from November’s strong pace of 6.92 million units.

The latest sales report underscored the continued strength in housing, which has been the all-star performer in the current recovery, as buyers have enjoyed the lowest mortgage rates many of them have seen in their working lives.

Analysts said they expect sales of both existing and new homes to dip slightly in 2005 under the impact of rising mortgage rates as the Federal Reserve continues its credit-tightening campaign to make sure that inflation pressures do not get out of control.

David Lereah, chief economist for the Realtors, said he believed that rates for 30-year mortgages, which currently stand at 5.67 percent, will rise gradually this year and will stand at 6.5 percent at the end of this year.

This rise in rates will be enough, he said, to trim sales of existing homes by about 3 percent to a still solid level of 6.48 million units in 2005.

“Home sales will continue at historically high levels and 2005 is expected to be the second-best year on record for the housing market,” Lereah said.

For the entire year, the median sales price for an existing home was $184,100, an increase of 8.3 percent from the 2003 median sales price of $170,000. That marked the biggest one-year jump in home prices since 1980.

For December, the 3.3 percent drop in sales reflected weakness in the South, where sales fell by 4.2 percent. Sales were also down in the West, where they dropped 7.2 percent. Sales rose by 1.4 percent in the Northeast and also climbed 1.4 percent in the Midwest.

The median price for an existing home in December was $188,900, an increase of 8.1 percent from December 2003. The median is the midpoint where half the homes sold for more and half for less.

Sales of previously owned homes rose 9.4 percent to an all-time high of 6.68 million units last year as home buyers continued to enjoy some of the lowest mortgage rates in decades.

A sales of existing homes last year were well above the 6.10 million sold in 2003, the National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday.

It marked the fourth straight year that sales of existing homes had set a record. Sales of new homes are also expected to set a record for all of 2004 when that figure is reported later this month.

For December, sales dipped a slight 3.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.69 million units, off only slightly from November's strong pace of 6.92 million units.

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