Existing home sales climbed in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.68 million, up 5.6% from last month, but down 27.9% from the same month last year when the numbers were goosed by an expiring federal tax credit for buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Existing home sales have climbed every month except October since an apparent bottoming at 3.84 million annual sales in July. That’s being taken as a sign of hope that a recovery may be starting.

”Continuing gains in home sales are encouraging, and the positive impact of steady job creation will more than trump some negative impact from a modest rise in mortgage interest rates, which remain historically favorable,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist in a news release announcing the numbers.

Increased affordability has helped spark sales. Yun noted that the relationship between mortgage interest rates, home prices and family income is the most favorable on record for buying a home since NAR started measuring the relationship in 1970.

Overall, median existing home sales prices in November were up 0.4%  to $170,600 for all housing types: single family as well as condominiums.

Distressed home sales made up 33% of sales, a percentage that has been fairly stable for a year.
Foreclosures were two-thirds of the distressed sales share and they sold at a median discount of 15% in November. Short sales were discounted by 10% compared to non-distressed home sales.

The increased sales took existing home inventory down to 9.5 months, down 9.5% from October but up 46.2% from November, 2009.

Existing home sales numbers rose across all four regions of the country from last year, up 2.7 percent  in the Northeast in November, 6.4% in the Midwest, 2.9% in the South, and 11.7% in the West.

Median prices rose over last year in the Northeast (up 9.2% to $242,500) and the West (up 0.4% to $212,500).  But they fell slightly in the Midwest (down 1.1% to $138,900) and the South (down 2.6% to $148,000).

A parallel NAR survey reports that first-time home buyers bought 32% of existing homes for sale in November, the same share as October, but below the 51% share they took to beat the first-time buyer tax credit last  year.

Investors were a bigger part of the buyer pool, accounting for 19% of the November buyers. That amount is unchanged from October, but up from 12% in November 2009. Another indicator that investors are more active in the market, or perhaps that there's a tighter credit market, is that all-cash buys constituted 31% of all sales, up from 19% a year ago.

Single-family home sales rose 6.7% in November, but were 27.3% below November 2009’s surge and cyclical peak. The median sales price for a single-family home was $171,300, 1.2% higher than a year ago.

Condominium and co-op sales fell 1.9% for the month, 32.2% below a year ago’s numbers. The median sales price was $165,300, down 5.5% from November 2009.

Teresa Burney is a senior editor for BUILDER and BIG BUILDER magazines