WASHINGTON -– In the largest monthly increase on record, existing single-family home sales surged in January and reached an unprecedented monthly high of more than 6 million units, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Existing-home sales jumped 16.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.04 million units in January, up from a pace of 5.20 million units in December.

Last month's sales activity was 14.6% above the 5.27-million unit pace in January 2001. The previous monthly record was an annual rate of 5.49 million units in August 2001. The previous largest monthly increase was 13.0% in May 1995.

"We've had favorable housing affordability conditions for some time, but what's new is the effect of a gradual increase in consumer confidence combined with a turnaround in the economy,” said David Lereah, NAR's chief economist. “As a result, some people who've held back from major commitments over the last few months have entered the housing market."

NAR President Martin Edwards Jr. said long-term demographic trends also are contributing to record sales. "The United States attracts a large number of immigrants at the same time children of the baby boom are entering their prime years for buying a home. The result is a growing number of households with the same goal in mind -- the American dream of homeownership," he said.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 7% in January, down from 7.07% in December. It stood at 7.03% in January 2001.

Housing inventory levels rose 11.4% at the end of January 2002 with 2.05 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 4.1-month supply at the current sales pace. Inventory levels are 13.9% higher than the 1.80 million homes available in January 2001.

The national median existing-home price was $151,100 in January, up 10.2% from January 2001 when the median price was $137,100. 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 surged 23.3% between December and January to an annual rate of 1.64 million units; it was 16.3% higher than January 2001. The median existing-home price in the West was $199,900, up 13.5% from the same month a year earlier.

Existing-home sales in the Northeast grew by 16.4% from December to a pace of 710,000 units in January. The rate was 9.2% above January 2001. The median existing-home price in the Northeast was $149,300, up 4.1% from a year ago.

The existing-home sales pace in the South rose 16.1% in January to an annual rate of 2.38 million units. The pace was 13.3% stronger than January 2001. The median price of an existing home in the South was $144,800, which was 12.5% higher than a year earlier.

In the Midwest, existing homes were selling at an annual rate of 1.31 million units in January, up 8.3% from December. The pace was 17% higher than January 2001. The median price in the Midwest was $128,700, up 5.3% from January 2001.