Meanwhile, the NAR is forecasting that total home sales will maintain historically high levels next year, coming in second only to this year's expected record high.The forecast, released at the association's annual Realtor conference and expo in Orlando, Fla., calls for record existing-home sales of 6.55 million this year and 6.30 million next year, and record new-home sales of 1.17 million this year and 1.07 million in 2005. Housing starts are forecast at 1.93 million this year and 1.84 million next year. "At the beginning of 2004, forecasters were calling for a gradual rise in mortgage interest rates, but we've experienced a pleasant surprise for the housing sector," said NAR chief economist David Lereah. "The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is now hovering close to 5.7%, and even though we're expecting rates to rise slowly, they will stay in a historically low range and a strong momentum of home sales will carry over into 2005."

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