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Sales of existing homes hit all-time high in 2001

SHARE Sales of existing homes hit all-time high in 2001

WASHINGTON — Americans, showing amazing resilience during the recession, snapped up existing homes last year and pushed sales to an all-time high.

Sales of previously owned homes soared to 5.25 million for all of 2001, a 2.7 percent increase from the 5.11 million homes sold in 2000, the National Association of Realtors reported Friday.

The record 5.25 million homes sold last year surpassed the association's previous record of 5.21 million recorded in 1999, when the economy was booming.

Although the country tipped into recession in March and was dealt another severe blow by the Sept. 11 terror attacks, home sales remained strong. Low interest rates during the year were a major factor in keeping the housing market — one of the few bright spots of the economy — steady, analysts said.

The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage in 2001 was 6.97 percent, the association said, citing figures compiled by Freddie Mac, the mortgage company. That was the lowest annual average rate since 1998, the association said.

On Wall Street, stocks were mixed. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 54 points and the Nasdaq was off 9 points in morning trading.

Low mortgage rates are "one of the fundamental factors in the favorable market conditions that we expect to prevail for this year as well," said David Lereah, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

Should the economy rebound this year as many economists predict, mortgage rates also are expected to rise.

Still, Lereah predicted 30-year mortgage rates should average 7.30 percent in the second half of the year. "Still pretty good in historic terms," he said.