Oops! Realtors Break Own Embargo on July Existing-Home Sales; but They're Up

Despite a glitch in the data release, industry observers got some good news about existing-home sales.

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A home under contract in Rockville, Md.

Existing-home sales data for July went out a little earlier than expected Wednesday morning, after Bloomberg reporters spotted the updated numbers on the National Association of Realtors' website ahead of the usual release time.

"The National Association of Realtors inadvertently released existing-home sales data early on their public website and broke their own embargo. As soon as Bloomberg notified the NAR that this information was on their website and verified its accuracy, we published the story," Bloomberg said in a statement, according to the Wall Street Journal.

[Read: Property in College Towns a Boon to Real Estate Investors, Parents.]

What's the big deal with a few sales numbers being released a couple of minutes early? It can give traders an advantage, according to the Journal. Earlier this month, the Labor Department had a similar glitch, and released a weekly report on unemployment assistance more than 12 hours early, giving some eagle-eyed traders a jump on the news.

In response to the mistake, NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said: "We will fix that going forward."

Beyond all the drama with the logistics of the release today, existing-home sales numbers were actually quite positive. Even with the constraints of a dwindling affordable inventory of previously owned homes for sale, low mortgage rates were enough to unleash some of the pent-up housing demand in the market.

Total existing-home sales grew more than 2 percent from June and are more than 10 percent above numbers recorded last July, according to the National Association of Realtors. Additionally, median existing-home prices rose more than 9 percent from July a year ago.

Still, despite sales rising from an eight-month low in July, experts remained concerned about the sustainability of the housing market's path.

[Read: Rising Building Material Costs Could Crimp Construction Gains.]

"We continue to be concerned that nationwide housing absorption is being artificially inflated by markets that are faster to improve while the wider U.S. market continues to suffer," John Tashjian, principal at Centurion Real Estate Partners in New York City, said in an E-mail. "While the U.S. housing market is very gradually recovering as a whole, certain stronger metropolitan areas will continue to outpace more troubled markets and the U.S. housing market as a whole."

For broader, more sustainable growth, the housing market needs to gain momentum, but several obstacles stand in the way. Mortgage credit is still too tight and the supply of affordable homes for sale in centers of housing demand continues to shrink.

If even some of those factors are resolved or at least lessened, Yun is confident about the direction of the housing market next year.

"Sales may reach 5 million next year, but it will require more sensible lending standards and stronger job creation to push beyond that," he said.

Meg Handley is a business reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at mhandley@usnews.com and follow her on Twitter.