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The numbers: Existing-home sales increased by nearly 7% between December and January, hitting a seasonally-adjusted, annual rate of 6.5 million, the National Association of Realtors said Friday. Compared to a year ago, sales were down more than 2%.

Economists polled by MarketWatch expected the pace of home sales to come in at 6.1 million.

What happened: Unsold inventory dropped to a 1.6-month supply in January, representing a record low. A balanced marketed is indicated by a 6-month supply of homes.