US existing-home sales dip in December: NAR

US existing-home sales dipped in December, capping a year that saw the briskest sales pace in five years as the housing market recovers, a trade group said Tuesday.

Sales fell 1.0 percent from November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.94 million last month, the National Association of Realtors said.

The NAR revised downward its November estimate to 4.99 million, from an initial 5.04 million.

The December sales reading was weaker than the 5.10 million pace expected by analysts.

But on a 12-month basis, sales marked a 12.8 percent increase from the December 2011 level, a fresh sign that the housing market has turned the corner six years after prices collapsed.

Total sales in 2012 was 4.65 million, up 9.2 percent from 2011, the strongest increase since 2004, the NAR said.

The 2012 sales volume was the highest since 2007, boosted by record low mortgage interest rates, an improving job market and pent-up demand six years after the market collapsed.

The median home price rose for the 10th consecutive month year-over-year in December to $180,800, a robust 11.5 percent higher.

Limited inventory pushed 2012 median home prices 6.3 percent higher to $176,600, the biggest annual increase since 2005.

"The number of potential buyers who stayed on the sidelines accumulated during the recession, but they started entering the market early last year as their financial ability and confidence steadily grew, along with home prices," said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.

"Likely job creation and household formation will continue to fuel that growth," he said, predicting gains in sales and prices in 2013.

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