WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Home resales unexpectedly rose in October, a sign that slow improvements in the country's labor market are helping the housing sector recovery gain traction.
The National Association of Realtors said on Monday that existing home sales climbed 2.1 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.79 million units.
That was above the median forecast of a 4.75 million-unit rate in a Reuters poll.
NAR economist Lawrence Yun said superstorm Sandy, which slammed in the U.S. East Coast on October 29, had only a slight impact on home resales. The only region where the pace of sales slipped was the Northeast. But Yun said the storm could temporarily hold back the pace of sales in November and December.
Nationwide, the median price for a home resale was $178,600 in October, up 11.1 percent from a year earlier as fewer people sold their homes under distressed conditions compared to the same period in 2011. Distressed sales include foreclosures.
The nation's inventory of existing homes for sale fell 1.4 percent during the month to 2.14 million, the lowest level since December 2002.
At the current pace of sales, inventories would be exhausted in 5.4 months, the lowest rate since February 2006.
The price increase last month was measured against October 2011, and since then distressed sales have fallen to 24 percent of total sales from 28 percent.
The share of distressed sales, which also include those where the sales price was below the amount owed on the home, was flat from September.
(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Andrea Ricci)