WASHINGTON - Existing home sales increased 5.0% in December to a seasonally adjusted 4.61 million-unit rate, after a downwardly revised 4.39 million unit rate in November, the National Association of Realtors announced Friday.

Economists polled by Thomson Reuters predicted 4.64 million sales for December.

On a year-over-year basis, sales overall were up 3.6% from a 4.45 million-unit sales pace December 2010.

Sales rose in all four regions of the country in December, increasing 10.7% in the Northeast to 620,000, 8.3% to 1.04 million units in the Midwest, 2.9% in the South to 1.76 million, and 2.6% to 1.19 million units, the NAR said.

Inventory levels sank 9.2% at the end of December to 2.38 million existing homes for sale, the lowest level since March 2005.

At the end of December, there was a 6.2-month supply, down 13.9% from a 7.2-month supply in November and the lowest level since April 2006.

Meanwhile, the national median existing home price was $164,500 in December, down 2.5% from a year ago.

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