Sales of existing homes in Northwest Indiana surged in May, up 18 percent compared to a year ago.

Data from the Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors show a total of 1,060 existing homes were sold in the seven-county area that makes up its membership. A total of 897 were sold in May 2015.

So far this year, 3,923 homes have been sold, up 13 percent from 3,465 a year ago.

"It's really been a crazy start to this year," GNIAR CEO Peter Novak said. "No one was expecting this."

The May numbers "are generally more summer-type numbers," he said. 

In Lake County, sales were up about 19 percent year-over-year to 610, with the median price rising nearly 4 percent to $142,000. Porter County saw sales increase nearly 16 percent to 242, while the median price rose 3 percent to $188,000. LaPorte County saw a sales increase of 15 percent to 129, and a median price rise of about 6 percent to $126,000.

GNIAR also has member Realtors in Jasper, Newton, Starke and Pulaski counties.

Sales nationally also rose sharply, according to the National Association of Realtors, reaching their highest point in nearly a decade. With a tight supply, the increased demand pushed the median price to its highest level ever.

Sales hit 5.53 million in May, the highest level since February 2007. The median price was $239,700, topping the previous high mark set in June 2015.

Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, said "ultra-low" mortgage rates are part of the cause. The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 3.6 percent in May, according to mortgage bundler Freddie Mac.

"But the primary driver in the increase in sales is more homeowners realizing the equity they've accumulated in recent years and finally deciding to trade-up or downsize," he said.

Yun said the recent trend could continue nationally unless job growth stalls. Credit also remains tight, making it harder for first-time buyers.

Novak said it's hard to predict what Northwest Indiana's summer market might be. He said inventory remains tight, and sales and prices won't continue to rise together for the long term.

"For the long run, this isn't necessarily a sustainable market," he said. But for now, it's "crazy busy, crazy demand."

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Transportation reporter

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.