Sales of existing single-family homes jumped 6.9% in December to close out another record sales year in which house prices rose 7.5% and inventories of unsold homes remained lean.The National Association of Realtors reported that resales rose from a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.05 million in November to a 6.47 million rate in December. Sales of previously occupied homes totaled 6.10 million in 2003, which shattered the 5.94 million record set in 2002. Home price appreciation in 2003 also exceeded the 7.0% increase in 2002. NAR chief economist David Lereah told reporters that 2003 ended on an "up note" and that mortgages rate have declined since December. His 2004 forecast calls for a 4% decline in resales, but he admitted he might have to make an upward revision if the Federal Reserve Board remains accommodative. If interest rates stay low because of weakness in the labor market, "I will have to revise my home sales numbers upward as the year progresses," Mr. Lereah said. Sales of existing single-family homes started the first half of 2003 at a strong 5.85 million pace but then accelerated to a 6.36 million pace in the second half. Meanwhile, the inventory of unsold homes ended the year at a lean 4.3-month supply. The NAR can be found on the Internet at http://realtor.org.

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