Americans bought more homes in July than in June, the latest evidence that the housing market is slowly recovering.
Sales of previously occupied homes rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.47 million in July, a 2.3% increase from the previous month's rate, the National Association of Realtors said today.
The industry's recovery has grown more consistent, though it remains slow and uneven.
July sales were below the 4.6 million annual pace reached in April and May. And the annual sales pace is below the roughly 5.5 million that economists consider healthy.
The number of first-time homebuyers, critical to a housing rebound, rose to 34% of sales, up slightly from June.
In a healthy market, first-time buyers make up about 40 percent of sales.
Purchases are being restrained by low levels of homes available for sale and by tight credit standards.
Other recent reports have contributed to the picture of a healing industry. Home prices are rising nationwide. And builders are growing increasingly confident because they're seeing more traffic from potential buyers. An index of builder confidence rose to its highest level in five years in August.
Builders responded by applying for the largest number of building permits in nearly four years last month. They broke ground on slightly fewer new homes in July than in June. But that was after the number of housing starts had reached a 3 plus year high in June.
In July, the number of unsold homes ticked up to 2.4 million. It would take about 6.4 months to exhaust that supply at the current sales pace. That is just above the six months' inventory that typically exists in a healthy economy.
Even with near-record-low mortgage rates, many would-be buyers are having difficulty qualifying for loans or can't afford the larger down payments being required by banks.
Hiring picked up a bit in July, which could support more home sales in the coming months. Job growth helps consumers feel more secure about their finances and typically encourages more of them to buy a house.
Employers added 163,000 jobs last month, the most since February. Job gains had averaged only 73,000 in the April-June quarter, raising fears that the economy was faltering and might even slip into recession.