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US home re-sales surpass 5 million in May

Despite sales gains, inventories of homes for sale were 10 percent below year-earlier levels in May.

Nick Ut /Associated Press

Despite sales gains, inventories of homes for sale were 10 percent below year-earlier levels in May.

WASHINGTON — US sales of previously occupied homes surpassed the 5 million mark in May, the first time that had happened in 3½ years.

The National Association of Realtors said resales rose 4.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.18 million. April’s pace was 4.97 million.

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While the sales pace is still below the 5.5 million that is consistent with healthy markets, it has risen nearly 13 percent in the past 12 months.

And with a tight supply of homes on the market, the median sales price rose to $208,000 — the highest since July 2008.

‘‘Housing is now the strongest part of the economy in growth terms,’’ said Jim O’Sullivan, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics.

Sales of previously occupied homes rose in every region: 8 percent in the Midwest, 4 percent in the South, 2.5 percent in the West, and 1.6 percent in the Northeast.

The number of homes on the market rose 3.3 percent to 2.22 million. Still, inventories were 10 percent below year-earlier levels.

The report showed a critical part of the market remains weak. First-time buyers represented only 28 percent of buyers in May, significantly below more normal levels above 40 percent. The decline suggests many younger Americas are unable to get financing.

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