WASHINGTON — More Americans bought homes in September, many for the first time, despite a persistent shortage of properties for sale.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales of existing homes rose 3.2 percent from August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.47 million, the strongest pace since June. Sales rose across the country: 5.7 percent in the Northeast, 5 percent in the West, 3.9 percent in the Midwest and 0.9 percent in the South.

The supply of available homes stood at 2.04 million units, down 6.8 percent from a year ago. Tight inventories drove the median price of existing homes up 5.6 percent from a year ago to $234,200.

Institutional investors who bought up homes in recent years have continued to rent them out rather than putting them on the market. Moreover, homebuilders have not stepped up construction. The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that home construction fell 9 percent in September to the slowest pace in 18 months.

But buyers have been lured into the market by mortgage rates near historic lows.

The association said first-time home buyers accounted for 34 percent of the purchases. On Tuesday, the real estate firm Zillow reported a surprise increase in first-time home buyers over the past year, as home ownership rates for adults under 34 have been at record lows.

The strong demand for homes combined with tight inventory suggests that would-be home owners could wind up in bidding wars when the home buying season heats up in the spring.


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