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Existing home sales, a fairly stable metric as far as the housing market is concerned, especially in comparison with the much smaller new home sales market, ticked slightly higher last month, gaining ground for the first time in 2014. Apparently, the long-anticipated rebound from the arduous and costly winter may now be under way.

All told, existing home sales rose to 4.65 million units on an annualized basis in April. That was up from March's total of 4.59 million houses sold. However, that somewhat healthier metric was still notably below the year-earlier 4.99 million unit level. The data were issued by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), a trade group.

Meanwhile, helping this most recent performance, most likely, was a rather hefty pickup in inventories. The lack of available supply of housing stock has been a core problem for this sector. But the 16.8% jump in such supply was certainly a welcome support. In all, sales gained last month in the South and the Midwest, the two largest markets, were essentially unchanged in the Northeast, the smallest locale, and eased in the Midwest. 

Lawrence Yun, the NAR's Chief Economist, had been looking for some improvement in the latest month, observing that "Some growth was inevitable after subpar housing activity in the first quarter, but improved inventory is expanding choices and sales should generally trend upward from this point."

In all, the 2.29 million homes now available for sale represented a 5.9-month supply. That was up from 5.1 months in March. A year ago, such supply had been 5.2 months. The increase is healthy and brings unsold stock up to about the historical average of some six months at current sales rates. As prices continue to rise--and they were more than 5% above year-earlier levels in April--we would expect homes available for sale to increase further. For now, a large housing overhang doesn't seem likely, but further large inventory increases, should they occur, would need to be watched.

Of note, first-time buyers continue to represent fewer than one third of all purchasers, with just 29% of all sales last month made by such novice buyers. The small share of the market now held by this group points up some emerging affordability issues. Buyers who are trading up, or down, have existing homes to sell and, therefore, down payments are less of an issue.

Taken as a whole, this was a supportive report and lends some optimism to the view that the long-awaited recovery from the harsh winter may finally be at hand. Tomorrow's companion data on new home sales should provide a further indication about whether our cautious optimism regarding this sector is well founded.

At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.