WASHINGTON -- The market for existing single-family home sales rose in November and set the stage for a possible record year, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Existing-home sales increased 0.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.21 million units in November from an upwardly revised pace of 5.18 million units in October. Last month's sales activity was 1.7% below the 5.30-million unit pace in November 2000.

"Existing-home sales have been consistently stronger than expected this year, and we're so close to setting a new record that we really won't know until the December data is available,” said Dr. David Lereah, NAR's chief economist. “What's more, we're looking for another strong performance in 2002.

"Despite the recession, all the major factors necessary for a strong housing market -- low interest rates, strong household formation and relatively low unemployment -- are continuing to create favorable market conditions," he added.

Housing inventory levels at the end of November rose 6.7% from October to a total of 2.08 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 4.8-month supply at the current sales pace. There were 1.95 million homes available at the end of October, which was a 4.5-month supply. The November inventory level is 11.8 percent higher than November 2000, when 1.86 million homes were on the market, representing a 4.2-month supply.

The national median existing-home price was $147,300 in November, up 5.6% from November 2000 when the median price was $139,500. The median is the midpoint, which is a typical market price where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less.

Regionally, home resales in the West rose 3.8% in November to an annual rate of 1.36 million units, but were 8.7% below November 2000. The median existing-home price in the West was $193,400, up 2.4% from the same month a year earlier. Existing homes in the Midwest were selling at an annual rate of 1.17 million units in November, the same as in October, and the pace was 2.6% above November 2000. The median price in the Midwest was $123,400, up 5.3% from November 2000.

The existing-home sales pace in the South was unchanged in November with sales continuing at an annual rate of 2.05 million units, and were 2.0% above November 2000. The median price of an existing home in the South was $140,200, which was 7.8% higher than a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Northeast dropped 3.1 percent in November to a pace of 630,000 units; the sales rate was 4.5% below November 2000. The median existing-home price in the Northeast was $151,700, up 5.5% from a year ago.