Existing home sales increased 7.2% in July to a seasonally adjusted 5.24 million-unit rate, the National Association of Realtors announced Friday. This was the first time in five years that sales rose four straight months.

The sales rise to 5.24 million was larger than the gain to a 5.00 million unit pace predicted by Thomson Reuters' poll of economists and followed an unrevised 3.6% increase to 4.89 million units in June.

On a year-over-year basis, sales overall were up 5.0% from a 4.99 million unit sales pace last July.

"The housing market has decisively turned for the better," said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. "A combination of first-time buyers taking advantage of the housing stimulus tax credit and greatly improved affordability conditions are contributing to higher sales."

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