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Home sales to ease slightly in '05

WASHINGTON — After jumping to record-breaking levels this year, home sales are expected to ease somewhat during 2005, but should still remain at historically strong levels, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is forecasting.

Sales of existing homes, by far the largest slice of the American housing market, are expected to set a record of about 6.49 million units for 2004, about 6.4 percent above the 6.1 million units sold in 2003. New home sales are also expected to hit a record of 1.15 million units this year, up 5.5 percent from 1.09 million units last year.

Scoping out next year's outlook, David Lereah, NAR chief economist, said, "In the first quarter of 2005, the trend will be a gradual ease in the sales pace with the housing market coasting at historically high levels as mortgage interest rates rise." And while giving up some sales ground, "At this point, with strong market fundamentals, we project next year will be the second-best overall year for the housing market."

Looking at another big market segment, housing starts, Lereah said housing construction is expected to ease as well next year after rising this year 4.9 percent, to 1.94 million units from 1.85 million units a year ago.

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