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ORLANDO, Fla. – Nov. 10, 2008 – Pending home sales slipped 4.6 percent nationwide in September from August but remained 1.6 percent higher than a year earlier, a sign that the battered housing market is “still in a broad period of stabilization,” the National Association of Realtors’ chief economist said Friday in Orlando.

October’s housing numbers could be worse, though, economist Lawrence Yun said, because of the stock market’s stunning plunge and the further erosion of consumer confidence as the economy continues to weaken.

Yun spoke during the opening day of the National Association of Realtors annual conference and exposition in the Orange County Convention Center, where about 20,000 Realtors from throughout the country are meeting.

“October was the height of the economic crisis,” Yun said, and “the shock factor for consumers” has not yet been fully reflected in home sales.

He noted, though, that some of the hardest-hit areas of the country, including Florida and California, are showing “consistent, solid gains” in pending sales.

Orlando and Tampa are among key Florida markets showing rebounds in existing-home sales this year, he said, as lower prices have helped draw buyers in increasing numbers.

Incoming NAR President Charles McMillan, a Realtor from Irving, Texas, said during a news briefing that the 100-year-old trade association is urging Congress to act swiftly to direct more relief to the housing sector.

One proposal, he said, is for the government to use part of its $700 billion economic package for a short-term program to “buy down” mortgage rates by 1 percentage point, a move to make more buyers eligible for loans, especially first-time buyers.

“Qualified buyers with unblemished credit can’t get loans,” he said, so more must be done “to get more homebuyers back into the marketplace.”

Based on a recent NAR survey, 35 percent to 40 percent of all recent home sales across the country were “distress sales,” such as bank-owned foreclosures or “short” sales in which the lender agrees to take less than the amount owed, said Yun, the Realtor economist. In Florida, he said, distress sales might be as high as 50 percent or 60 percent of all recent closings.

The Realtor conference, which runs through the weekend, is open to industry professionals only.

Source: FAR