Americans purchased more previously owned homes in December, but the increase was less than Wall Street expected.
Existing-home sales climbed 2.4% from November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.04 million, the National Assn. of Realtors said Friday. Analysts predicted sales to rise to 5.05 million, according to FactSet.
The housing market softened last year after home prices soared far faster than incomes in 2013. Many families, as well as investors, bowed out of the market as a result, sending sales in 2014 down 3.1% from a year earlier.
The upcoming spring buying season should provide insight into whether recent solid job growth and falling mortgage rates are enough to revive a sluggish housing recovery.
Lawrence Yun, the Realtors' chief economist, said there were already signs of improvement in the second half of 2014 "once inventory increased, prices moderated and economic growth accelerated."
Sales fell from November in the Northeast and the Midwest, but rose 3.8% in the South and 9.8% in the West.
The median price in the West rose 5.6% from a year earlier to $299,600 in December.