Home sales pick up in August, but prices sag again

For sale sign with sky in background

Home sales picked up in August, reducing the number of properties on the market.

But with distress sales still accounting for about one-third of all transactions, the average selling price continued to decline as well.

The National Association of Realtors says home sales rose to an adjusted annual selling rate of 5.03 million houses, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops in August.

That's still far short of the go-go years of the real estate bubble when we were buying and selling more than 6 million homes a year.

But it's a definite improvement over August 2010 when the annualized selling rate was just 4.24 million properties, or even in July, when it was 4.67 million properties.

Investors accounted for 22% of all purchases, up from 18% in July and 21% in August 2010.

First-time buyers accounted for 32% of all purchases, unchanged from July and right at the 31% of the market they accounted for in August 2010.

Distress sales – foreclosures and short sales – accounted for 31% of all purchases, up from 29% in July, but down from 34% in August 2010.

Those homes are often sold at a large discount, and the fact that distress sales continue to make up about one-third of the market is a major reason average sale prices continue to fall.

The median existing single-family home price was $168,400 in August, which is 5.4% below a year ago.

The median existing condo price was $167,500 in August, down 3.3% from August 2010.

The number of homes on the market continues to fall.

There were 3.58 million existing homes up for sale at the end of August, down 3.0% from July -- an 8.5-month supply at the current selling rate.

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