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Existing home sales up, but revisions to earlier numbers make market look weaker

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans who bought previously occupied homes rose last month. But the National Association of Realtors says it overstated about 3.5 million sales during and after the Great Recession, showing the housing market remains much weaker than previously thought.

The private trade group says sales rose 4 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.42 million. That's below the roughly 6 million sales a year that economists say are consistent with a healthy housing market. But it's ahead of 2008's revised sales, now considered the worst in 13 years.

In Florida, existing home sales increased 11 percent last month compared with November 2010, while sales were up 6 percent in the Tampa Bay area, according to Florida Realtors. The median statewide sale price was virtually unchanged at $130,100. In the bay area, the median price was $120,900, down 6 percent.

The nearly 4.2 million U.S. homes sold last year are far fewer than the nearly 7.1 million sold at the peak of the housing boom in 2005. This year is on pace to slightly exceed last year's total of about 4.25 million.

The trade group revised down its sales from 2007 through October more than 14 percent, from 24.8 million to nearly 21.3 million. Among the reasons for the lower figures, the Realtors group says: changes in the way the Census Bureau collects data, population shifts and some sales being counted twice.

The sharp revisions could cast doubt on future sales numbers from the Realtors group, a private trade organization that lobbies on behalf of its 1.2 million members.

John Ryding, an economist at RDQ Economics, called the revisions "massive" and cited them as an example of how economic data can be unreliable.

The Realtors' group said it trusts its new figures, which were checked by government agencies and CoreLogic, the California-based real estate data firm that first raised questions about the numbers earlier this year.

Existing home sales up, but revisions to earlier numbers make market look weaker 12/21/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 8:25pm]
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