Sales of existing single-family homes fell 17% in December to an annualized rate of 5.45 million units with distressed purchases accounting for almost one-third of the activity, according to new figures released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Compared to December 2008, existing home sales actually rose 15%. However, NAR noted that the inventory of unsold homes rose 11% to a 7.2 month supply rate in December.

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