U.S. home resales unexpectedly increased in September as the effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma began to dissipate, but a persistent dearth of properties for sale continued to weigh on overall activity.
The National Association of Realtors said on Friday existing home sales rose 0.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.39 million units last month. August's sales pace was unrevised.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast sales falling 1.0 percent to a rate of 5.30 million units last month. Sales were down 1.5 percent from September 2016, the first year-over-year decline since July 2016.
Harvey, which hit Texas in the last week of August, and Irma, which battered Florida in early September, had already affected sales for August. Texas and Florida make up more than 18 percent of the nation's existing home sales.
The NAR said that Houston's market had recovered quickly, with a 4 percent gain in September compared to a year ago. Florida's sales were still down 22 percent compared to this time last year.
Analysts expect that sales in the hurricane-affected areas will rebound further once delays in sales fade. However, the overall housing sector has been slowing as the number of properties available has not kept up with demand.
Supply was down 6.4 percent from a year ago. Housing inventory has declined on a year-on-year basis for more than two years.
The median house price was $245,100 in September, a 4.2 percent rise from a year ago, reflecting the shortage of homes on the market.
"As long as we have a housing shortage, this will lead to affordability issues," NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said.
At the current sales rate, it would take 4.2 months to clear inventory, down from 4.5 months a year ago. Economists view a six-month supply as a healthy balance between supply and demand.
The median number of days that homes were on the market in September was 34, compared to 39 days a year ago.
Across the regions, sales increased in the West by 3.3 percent and in the Midwest by 1.6 percent. They fell 0.9 percent in the South and were unchanged in the Northeast.
The Commerce Department reported earlier this week that new U.S. single-family home sales fell to a one-year low in September, as Harvey and Irma disrupted the construction of single-family homes in the South. (Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Paul Simao)