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Asking Prices Increase for Fifth Straight Month

Home sellers are staying on the sidelines this summer, which is helping to firm up prices in more U.S. housing markets.

The number of homes listed for sale rose by just 0.5% in June from May and was down 19.4% from one year ago, according to Realtor.com. Slightly less than 1.89 million homes were listed for sale in June, which is lower than at any time in 2011 or 2010.

Listings are down in part because banks have been slower to move foreclosed properties onto the market and investors are buying up more of them at courthouse auction sales and renting them out. Meanwhile, traditional sellers are frequently unwilling to list their homes amid signs that prices are turning around in more markets. And in some of the markets with the biggest inventory drops, many owe more than their homes are worth and may be unable to sell without taking a big loss.

Compared with one year ago, listings were down in all but two of the 146 markets tracked by Realtor.com. Inventory has fallen by nearly 58% in Oakland, Calif.; by 49% in Fresno, Calif.; by 47% in Bakersfield, Calif.; and by 43% in Seattle.

Big inventory drops are pushing up prices. Median asking prices rose for the fifth straight month and were 2.7% higher than one year ago, though they were up by just 0.05% for the month. By contrast, last year’s disappointing spring sales season prompted sellers to cut prices by 1% in June from May.

About two thirds of all markets saw median prices increase in June from one year ago, and about one third of all markets saw median prices rise by at least 5%. The biggest gainers were Phoenix, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara, Calif. Prices declined in just 19 markets, with the biggest declines reported in Allentown, Pa.; Peoria, Ill.; and Toledo, Ohio.

Another sign of the improvement this spring: The median age of inventory listed for sale fell by nearly 10% from one year ago. That means sellers are finding buyers more quickly for their homes.

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