Home Sales Fall After 4 Months of Increases

Home resales dipped unexpectedly last month, falling 2.7 percent from a month earlier, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday, reversing steady monthly gains since April. Most economists, however, called the drop temporary and said they expected sales to strengthen later this fall.

"It doesn't change the underlying trend of improvement," said Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Capital.

But even if sales do turn upward again, Maki and other economists don't predict prices will follow. Though prices have stabilized this summer, many economists are forecasting a downward turn over the fall and winter and expect prices to finally hit bottom early next year.

Compared with a year ago, home sales are up 3.4 percent, and the inventory of unsold homes has been whittled down to an 8.5 month supply at the current sales pace. That's the lowest level in more than two years.Fewer foreclosures have been coming on to the market in Phoenix, for example, cutting down the number of homes for sale from around 54,000 last year to about 31,000 today, said Floyd Scott, broker-owner of Century 21 Arizona-Foothills.

Sales this month should be ahead of August, Scott says. But he wonders whether they will drop after the Nov. 30 sunset of a tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time homebuyers.

"It will be interesting to see what happens sometime around the first or second week of October," he said.

In Washington, real estate agents and home builders are lobbying hard for an extension of the credit. Without it, they argue, the housing market will take a sharp turn for the worse.

First-time buyers purchased almost one in three homes in August. Together with investors snapping up foreclosures, they have provided most of the momentum in the market this year.

"Prices have just gotten so low in some places that investors can't resist," said Dave Denslow, an economics professor at the


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