Existing home sales decreased 0.4% in January to a seasonally adjusted 4.89 million-unit rate, the National Association of Realtors announced yesterday.

The sales decrease to 4.89 million, compared to the 4.84 million unit pace predicted by IFR Markets’ poll of economists and followed a revised 2.2% drop to a 4.91 million unit level in December.

On a year-over-year basis, though, sales overall were down 23.4% from a 6.38 million unit sales pace.

“Subprime loans and other risky mortgage products have virtually disappeared from the marketplace, and over the past five months, this has been reflected in soft but fairly stable home sales,” said NAR senior economist Lawrence Yun. “As the increased limits for FHA and conventional loans are implemented, more buyers will have access to safer FHA loans and lower interest rate loans in high-cost areas, which could lead to steadily higher home sales later in the year.”

Sales fell in three of the four regions of the country in January, declining 3.6% in the Northeast, 2.1% in the West, and 0.5% the in South. Sales grew 3.4% in the Midwest.

Inventory levels jumped 5.5% at the end of January to 4.191 million existing homes for sale, representing a 10.3-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 9.7 months last month.

Meanwhile, the median existing home price was $201,100 in January, off 2.9% from in December, when the median price was $207,000, and slid 4.6% year-over-year from a $210,900 level.

The average existing home price was $247,700 in January, down 2.5% from the prior month, when the average price was $254,000, and dipped 3.7% year-over-year from a $257,300 level.

The national average 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 5.76%, down from December’s 6.10%, NAR said. The rate was 6.22% in January 2007.

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