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WASHINGTON, Aug 21 (Reuters) - U.S. home sales rose more than expected in July, boosted by lower mortgage rates and a strong labor market, signs the Federal Reserve's shift toward lower interest rates was adding support for the economy.
The National Association of Realtors said on Wednesday existing home sales rose 2.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.42 million units last month. July's sales pace was revised slightly higher to 5.29 million units from the previously reported 5.27 million units.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast existing home sales would rise to a rate of 5.39 million units in July.
Last month's increase left existing home sales, which make up about 90 percent of U.S. home sales, higher than they were a year earlier for the first time in 17 months. The U.S. home market slipped into a rut last year as the U.S. central bank continued a rate-hiking campaign.
After raising rates in December, the Fed later signaled it was done with the tightening, and by July the central bank switched gears completely, cutting rates for the first time since 2008 in a bid to keep a global downturn from causing a U.S. recession.
The rate cut came despite the U.S. unemployment rate being at its lowest level in nearly 50 years.
The 30-year fixed mortgage rate dropped to an average of 3.77% in July from more than a seven-year peak of 4.94% in November, according to data from mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac. The average rate fell to 3.6% in the Aug. 15 week and rates could decline further as the Fed is expected to cut rates in September due to concerns about economic weakening.
Last month, existing home sales rose across the country except for the Northeast.
There were 1.89 million previously owned homes on the market in July, down from 1.92 million in June and a 1.6% decrease from July 2018. The median existing house price increased 4.3% from a year ago to $280,800 in July.
At July's sales pace, it would take 4.2 months to exhaust the current inventory, down from 4.4 months in June. A six-to-seven-month supply is viewed as a healthy balance between supply and demand. (Reporting by Jason Lange Editing by Paul Simao)