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Home Sales Rise, But What Of Sun Belt?

Sales of U.S. residential properties in July enjoyed their biggest year-over-year gain of 2013, according to data released Thursday by industry researcher RealtyTrac.

In its monthly Residential & Foreclosure Sales Report, RealtyTrac says that U.S. residential properties sold at an estimated annualized pace of 5.5 million in July, up 4% from the previous month and 11% from a year earlier — the biggest increase this year.

A low inventory of homes is proving to be a "double-edged sword" in many local housing markets that have bounced back quickly from the real estate slump, said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, in a statement.

Although the sales pace nationally kept rising, eight states logged year-over-year drops in sales: California, which had a 17% fall, as well as Arizona (down 11%), Nevada (down 7%) and Georgia (down 2%).

California Tops Price Gains

Those states also posted the four biggest annual increases in median home prices in July. Prices in California rose 31%. It was followed by Nevada with a 27% gain, Arizona with a 21% rise and Georgia with a 20% increase.

The national median sales price for July was $174,500, a gain of 6% from the prior year. It was the 16th straight month that median home prices rose nationally.

The median price of distressed sales was $120,000 in July, down 1% from a year earlier.

Other housing data, including new-home sales, pending home sales and mortgage applications for buying a home, have suggested some softening in demand as interest rates spike. Existing-home sales that closed in July may reflect contracts signed in June or even May.

Homebuilder shares rose in the stock market Thursday as the major indexes advanced. Lennar (LEN), PulteGroup (PHM) and D.R. Horton (DHI) — the three biggest builders by market cap — all rose more than 3%, as did Taylor Morrison Home (TMHC). Luxury builder Toll Bros. (TOL) lifted nearly 2%.

Sun Belt markets — particularly those in the West — seemed to lose the most ground in sales in July.

Of the 20 largest metro areas in the RealtyTrac report, the biggest year-over-year decreases in sales volume occurred in San Francisco and Los Angeles, both of which reported a 20% decline. Sales volume in Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif., fell 14%, followed by Phoenix (down 13%) and Atlanta (down 8%).

In a number of housing markets, home prices "are accelerating rapidly," thanks to a combination of low supply and strong demand, Blomquist said.

He added in a statement, "Counter to the national trend, sales volume in these markets is down even as the percentage of cash sales rises." It indicates that "there is still strong demand but that buyers who need financing to purchase are increasingly left out in the cold.

Among big cities, the top year-over-year increase in sales volume was in Chicago, which had a 27% gain. It was followed by Minneapolis (up 23%), Baltimore (up 21%), Boston (up 20%) and Philadelphia (up 20%).

Cash Buyers Still Shopping

All-cash purchases accounted for 40% of national residential property sales in July, RealtyTrac reports. That was up from 35% of all sales the previous month and 31% the previous year.

Among the nation's 20 largest metro areas, those with the biggest month-over-month increases in cash sales share were Dallas (up 82%), St. Louis (up 66%) and Los Angeles (up 32%).

Short sales accounted for 14% of July residential sales, up from 9% the prior year. States with the highest percentage of short sales were Nevada at 35% and Florida at 30%.