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Existing home sales increase for the third straight month

Approximately 5.36 million homes sold nationwide in January.

Approximately 5.36 million homes sold nationwide in January.

Make it three straight months that existing home sales have risen.

A just released report by the National Association of Realtors indicates that completed transactions, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 2.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.36 million in January. Compared to the same month last year, that's up slightly from 5.09 million.

"The uptrend in home sales is consistent with improvements in the economy and jobs, which are helping boost consumer confidence," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist. "The extremely favorable housing affordability conditions are a big factor, but buyers have been constrained by unnecessarily tight credit. As a result, there are abnormally high levels of all-cash purchases, along with rising investor activity."

Indeed, as MDA DataQuick, Freddie Mac and the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors all report 2010 was a banner year for cash-purchased housing. This could mean one of two things: people moving into new homes have more cash on hand, or as Yun indicates, people are being forced to pay that way due to credit restrictions.