Sales of previously occupied homes surpassed the 5 million mark nationwide in May, the first time that’s happened in 3½ years.
Locally, home sales were up to their highest monthly total since June 2008.
The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that home sales rose 4.2 percent in May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.18 million. That’s up from April’s pace of 4.97 million.
Sales last exceeded 5 million in November 2009. During that month and October 2009, a home-buying tax credit briefly inflated the sales pace. Before that, sales hadn’t been above 5 million since July 2007.
In Summit County, home sales in May rose 8.7 percent to 623 from the 573 sold in May 2012. It was the highest number of sales in a single month since June of 2008, when the same number of homes — 623 — changed hands.
The national figure is an annualized rate, while the Akron Area Board of Realtors home sales figures are transactions for a given month.
The supply of homes on the market in Summit continues to lag the year-ago figure, mirroring the national trend. May saw a 17.1 percent decline in the supply, with 3,173 homes on the market in Summit, compared to 3,826 in May 2012. The supply is down dramatically from May 2011, when there were 4,706 homes on the market.
However, the May 2013 supply was up slightly from the April 2013 figure of 3,159.
The median sale price in Summit in May was $128,675, up 10 percent from $117,000 in May 2012.
In a 15-county Northeast Ohio area, including Summit, Stark, Portage, Medina and Cuyahoga counties, sales of single-family homes increased 12.6 percent to 3,472, compared with the 3,083 sold in May 2012, according to the Northern Ohio Regional Multiple Listing Service.
Statewide, sales in May reached 12,820. That was a 16.2 percent increase from the 11,029 sales posted during the month in 2012, and the best mark since 2007. The average sales price of $148,143 is a 9.3 percent increase from the $135,560 statewide average price posted in May 2012.
The Ohio association does not provide a median price.
Nationally, while the sales pace is still below the 5.5 million that is consistent with healthy markets, it has risen nearly 13 percent in the past 12 months.
And with a tight supply of homes on the market, the median sales price rose to $208,000 — the highest since July 2008.
“Housing is now the strongest part of the economy in growth terms,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.
The housing recovery is looking more sustainable and should continue to boost economic growth this year, offsetting higher taxes and federal spending cuts.
Steady hiring and low mortgage rates have encouraged more people to buy homes. And with demand up, prices rising and few homes on the market, builders have grown more optimistic about their prospects, leading to more construction and jobs.
The supply of homes for sales also grew, a sign that more homeowners are confident that they can lure buyers. The number of homes on the market rose 3.3 percent in May to 2.22 million. Still, inventories are 10 percent below year-ago levels.
The report also showed that a critical part of the market remains weak. First-time buyers represented only 28 percent of buyers in May. That’s down from 34 percent a year ago and significantly below more normal levels above 40 percent. The decline in first-time buyers suggests many younger Americans are unable to get financing.
Banks have raised lending standards since the housing crisis, requiring higher credit scores, larger down payments and more detailed employment records.
Distressed sales, which include foreclosures and short sales, accounted for 18 percent of May sales, unchanged from April. Both months matched the lowest share of distressed sales since the Realtors began tracking this data in October 2008. Distressed sales stood at 25 percent of sales in May 2012.
A better outlook for housing has made builders more optimistic. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index rose in June to 52, up from 44 in May. It was the highest reading in more than seven years and the largest monthly increase in more than a decade. A reading above 50 indicates more builders view sales conditions as good rather than poor.
Beacon Journal business writer Katie Byard contributed to this report.