WASHINGTON — Existing home sales fell 1.5% in May to a seasonally adjusted 4.55 million-unit rate, after an unrevised 4.62 million rate in April, the National Association of Realtors announced Thursday.

Economists polled by Thomson Reuters had predicted 4.57 million sales.

The May sales rate represented a 9.6% increase from May 2011. The sales rate has now been above previous year levels for eleven straight months, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said.

The median sales price rose to $182,600, a 7.9% gain from a year ago.

The inventory levels dipped slightly to 2.49 million existing homes, representing a 6.6-month supply at the current pace, the same as in April. Inventory was down 20% from the April 2011 level, when it was a 9.1-month supply.

Yun said all the data indicate that the housing market is improving despite a slowdown in job creation over recent months. An inventory shortage of low-end homes is the most likely reason for the slight reversal in sales, he said.

“There is plenty of buyer activity going on,” Yun said. “It’s just that they are unable to sign the contract, unable to complete the deal.”

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