Home Sales Slip In September

Sales of existing single-family homes declined slightly in September for the second consecutive month but remained much stronger than last year.

Sales slipped 1.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.68 million, the National Association of Realtors said Monday. That followed a 3.7 percent drop from a 4.91 million rate in July, the highest since the group began tracking sales in 1968.

Nevertheless, the September rate was nearly 9 percent higher than a year earlier and trade association is projecting sales for all of 1998 will hit a record 4.75 million, topping last year's record of 4.22 million.

"Although we're coming off unprecedented sales activity, the housing market is set for a soft landing with sales remaining at historically strong levels," said R. Layne Morrill, president of the association.

Sales have been supported by plentiful jobs (unemployment this spring touched a 28-year low); a stock market that surged until midsummer; and the lowest mortgage rates in three decades.

Regionally, September sales fell 4.9 percent in the South to an annual rate of 1.76 million. They slipped 0.8 percent in the Midwest to a 1.17-million unit rate and were unchanged in the Northeast at a 660,000 rate. However, in the West, sales jumped 5.8 percent to a 1.09 million rate.

Nationally, the median price of an existing home, meaning half sold for more and half for less, was $131,300 in September, up 4.4 percent from a year earlier.