(Bloomberg News) Sales of existing homes climbed in July from an eight-month low, adding to signs U.S. housing may pick up in the second half.

Purchases of previously owned houses, tabulated when a contract closes, increased 2.3 percent to a 4.47 million annual rate, figures from the National Association of Realtors showed today in Washington. The data were posted on the group's website ahead of the usual 10 a.m. release time. The median forecast of 73 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a rise to a 4.51 million rate.

Buoyed by cheaper properties and record-low mortgage costs, demand for real estate is bolstering the industry that helped trigger the recession. Minutes of the Federal Reserve's latest meeting, due later today, will be a reminder that policy makers are monitoring data such as housing to determine whether the world's largest economy needs more stimulus.

"We'll see further improvement in housing this year," Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial Corp. in Birmingham, Alabama, said before the report. "The two keys are going to be the pace of job growth and whether we see more easing in mortgage lending standards."

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 4.3 million to 4.8 million. The prior month's pace was unrevised at 4.37 million, the lowest since October.

Median Price

The median price of an existing home jumped 9.4 percent from a year earlier, the biggest 12-month gain since January 2006, to $187,300 from $171,200 in July 2011, today's report showed.

Compared with a year earlier, purchases increased 11 percent before adjusting for seasonal variations.

The number of previously owned homes on the market climbed 1.3 percent to 2.4 million. At the current sales pace, it would take 6.4 months to sell those houses compared with 6.5 months at the end of the prior month.

Purchases increased in three of four regions, led by a 7.4 percent gain in the Northeast. Purchases in the West were unchanged.