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US home sales plunged 5.1 percent in January

WASHINGTON — Sales of existing US homes plummeted in January to the worst pace in 18 months. Cold weather, limited supplies of homes on the market, and higher buying costs held back purchases.

The National Association of Realtors said Friday that sales fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million units last month. That was down 5.1 percent from the December pace. The sales rate declined 5.1 percent over the previous 12 months.

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Higher mortgage rates and higher prices have contributed to a slowdown in home buying in five of the past six months. Freezing temperatures and snowstorms have also caused most housing activity to slip this winter. The flagging sales suggest a deceleration from the momentum for much of 2013, when 5.09 million homes were sold.

‘‘Such a picture confirms that the US housing market reached its peak at the end of 2013 and further reacceleration is unlikely near term,’’ Annalisa Piazza of Newedge Strategy said in a research note.

Home building dipped 16 percent in January from December, the Commerce Department said this week. Signed contracts to buy homes plunged in December, foreshadowing the January drop-off, the realtors said in a separate report.

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