Hope for the Housing Market in Existing Home Sales

Dear Ali;
You wrote yesterday that the most recent real estate price data was lousy -- but today's existing home-sales numbers are up! Is that a contradiction?

A: It's not a contradiction -- these April existing-home sales numbers are from a different data provider -- the National Association of Realtors. They don't indicate that we're out of the woods by any means (or even that we will be by the end of this year) but they do provide one tiny bright spot in a really dark tunnel.

The numbers -- which track resales of existing homes -- were up from an annual rate of 4.55 million in March to an annual rate of 4.68 million in April. Although that's down 3.5 percent from last year, it's considered a bright spot because it's up 2.9 percent over last month.

The theory is that buyers are swooping in and buying foreclosures -- and not yet going after the pricier homes. (Read Ilyce Glink's take here.) It's also possible that the first-time buyer tax credit is driving sales -- contradicting the views of Realtors, who don't think Obama's stimulus package means much.

Possibly more interesting, though, is that NAR's median home price rose, from $169,900 in March to $170,200 in April. I spend a lot of time as a Realtor telling my clients to ignore median price data "because no one buys a median house." Still, if you're going to pay attention to it, this data series is way more encouraging than yesterday's numbers from S&P/Case-Shiller, which pointed down, down, and down.