US existing-home sales rose in July and prices climbed the most in more than six years, an industry group said Wednesday in a fresh sign of stabilization in the depressed housing market.
Sales of previously owned homes increased 2.3 percent to an annual rate of 4.47 million in July, and were up 10.4 percent from a year ago, the National Association of Realtors said.
NAR said July sales rose in every region but the West, where inventory was "very tight."
Nationwide, the median price for all housing types, including single-family homes, apartments and townhouses, was $187,300 in July, NAR said.
That was a gain of 9.4 percent from July 2011, the biggest year-on-year jump since January 2006, just before the housing bubble popped, helping to send the economy into recession.
July marked the fifth consecutive month of annual price rises as the housing sector slowly begins to recover.
While mortgage interest rates at historic lows have helped breathe life into the moribund market, NAR said lending criteria remained overly stringent.
"The market is constrained by unnecessarily tight lending standards and shrinking inventory supplies, so housing could easily be much stronger without these abnormal frictions," NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement.
Yun noted that all home-price measures were now showing positive movement and "that is building confidence in the market."
"The higher median price naturally means more housing contribution to economic growth," he added.
Michael Zoller, at Moody's Analytics, noted that sales were higher in July but remain below what they were earlier in the year.
"The July sales numbers hint that the housing recovery continues, but progress is less than stellar. Given the drag that housing has had on the broader economy, even a slow improvement is better than no improvement," Zoller said.