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NAR: 2016 existing-home sales in the US highest in a decade

Existing-home sales in the U.S. in 2016 marked the best year since 2006, despite a slide in December 2016, the National Association of Realtors reported.

Total existing-home sales, including single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, came in at 5.45 million in 2016, surpassing the 2015 total of 5.25 million, marking the highest figure since 6.48 million sales in 2006.

Sales decreased 2.8% in December 2016 to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.49 million, down from an upwardly revised November 2016 reading of 5.65 million. The December 2016 figure was up 0.7% from the year-ago period.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement: "Solid job creation throughout 2016 and exceptionally low mortgage rates translated into a good year for the housing market. However, higher mortgage rates and home prices combined with record low inventory levels stunted sales in much of the country in December."

Total housing inventory at the end of December 2016 dropped 10.8% to 1.65 million existing homes available for sale. The figure reflects the lowest level since NAR began tracking supply in 1999. Inventory stood 6.3% lower than year-ago levels and has fallen year over year for 19 consecutive months.

First-time buyers accounted for 32% of sales in December 2016, as well as in the full year.

Distressed sales increased to 7% in December 2016, up 6% month over month, but were down 8% from the year-ago period.

Single-family home sales slipped 1.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million, from 4.97 million in November 2016, but were 1.5% above year-ago levels. The median existing single-family home price was up 3.8% compared to December 2015 at $233,500.

Existing condo and co-op sales were down 10.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000 units, and stood 4.7% below year-ago levels. The median price for existing condos was $221,600 in December 2016, up 5.5% from the year-ago price.

In the Northeast, existing home sales were down 6.2% to an annual rate of 760,000, but were 2.7% above year-ago levels. The median price in the region was 3.8% below December 2015 at $245,900.

The Midwest saw a 3.8% decline in sales to an annual rate of 1.28 million, but sales stood 2.4% above year-ago levels for the month. The median price of $178,400 was 4.6% higher than the year-ago price.

In the West, existing-home sales decreased 4.8% to an annual rate of 1.20 million, and were 1.6% below year-ago levels. The median sales price in the region saw a 6.0% year-over-year increase to $341,000.

Existing-home sales remained unchanged from November 2016 in the South at an annual rate of 2.25 million, and were 0.4% higher than the year-ago level. The median price in the region was up 6.5% from December 2015 at $207,600.