FOR THE EIGHTH TIME THIS YEAR, THE National Association of Realtors has boosted its outlook for 2004 home sales. In August, pointing to signs of an economic recovery and continuing low mortgage rates, the trade group predicted that 6.45 million resale properties would change hands this year—up from an estimate of 6.31 million cited just a month ago. In the new home sector, the NAR raised its sales forecast from 1.16 million to a new projection of 1.2 million. If those figures pan out, they would be the best results on record in both segments of the industry.

Additionally, home prices in the second quarter increased at a strong rate in most metropolitan areas in comparison with the same period a year earlier, according to the NAR. The association's second quarter metro area home-price report, covering changes in 128 metropolitan statistical areas, shows 49 metros with double-digit annual increases in median existing-home prices, and 11 metros with generally small price declines—none in areas that had experienced sustained periods of rapid growth.

The national median existing-home price was $183,800 during the second quarter, up 9.1 percent from the second quarter of 2003, when the median price was $168,500.