U.S. Existing-Home Sales Climb 0.7% in September : Economy: The level is the highest in 20 months. Sales of comparable dwellings in California fall 0.6% from August.

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Sales of existing homes nationwide jumped to the highest level in 20 months in September as buyers took advantage of falling mortgage rates, a real estate group said Wednesday.

In California, however, single-family home sales fell 0.6% from August to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 453,670, according to figures released by the California Assn. of Realtors. The median price remained virtually unchanged at $182,380.

In a separate survey by Anaheim-based TRW Redi Property Data, sales of existing and new Southern California homes and condominiums declined by nearly 10% for the third quarter from the year-ago period. Between July and September, 48,798 residences were sold in the six-county region. The TRW results are not seasonally adjusted.

Nationwide, sales of previously owned homes rose 0.7% in September--the fifth consecutive monthly increase--to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 4.15 million units from a 4.12-million unit rate in August, the National Assn. of Realtors said. The sales rate last month stood 7% above the rate for September, 1994, as prices edged down after rising in August.

The rate was the highest since existing homes sold at an annual rate of 4.17 million units in January, 1994, the association said.

Declining mortgage rates fueled most of the rise, economists said, noting that the housing sector should continue to bolster the economy because rates are likely to remain low.

"In view of the recent further declines in mortgage rates, we should expect additional gains in home sales in the fourth quarter," said Anthony Karydakis, senior financial economist at First National Bank of Chicago.

Rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages fell to 7.64% in September from 7.86% in August and 8.64% a year ago, the national realtors group said.

"Even though the market is doing well, it is a case where buyers are still demanding some pricing discipline," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Bank Corp. in Pittsburgh.

The median price of an existing home fell to $115,200 in September from $117,600 in August, the national group said. ("Median" means that half the homes sold for above that figure and half for less.)

The rebound in housing sales from the sluggishness of last spring would be expected to affect retail figures as consumers buy furniture, appliances and other items for their homes, economists said. Some estimated that the rebound will contribute about half a percentage point to the economic growth of the third quarter. The government's first report on third-quarter economic growth will be released Friday.

"It basically points to an economy that should be probably a little bit stronger than what people expect in the third and fourth quarters," said William Dudley, senior economist at Goldman, Sachs & Co. There were 1.75 million homes available for sale in September, representing a 5.1-month supply, the national realtors group said. That was down from 1.78 million in August.

Regionally, sales rose in the Northeast and Midwest and declined in the South and West.

In regard to the decline in California sales, real estate officials noted that September sales were off 2% from the same month last year--the smallest year-to-year drop in 11 months.

In addition, TRW Redi Property Data reported that third-quarter repossessions of residential and commercial property in Southern California declined 5% from the same period last year--the first quarterly decline since 1990.

"It's encouraging to see California home sales holding steady at solid levels--the latest sign that the state's housing market is continuing on its recovery track," Ed Albers, president of the California Assn. of Realtors, said in a statement.


Existing-Home Sales

Seasonally adjusted annual U.S. rate, in millions of units September: 4.15

Source: National Assn. of Realtors

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