WASHINGTON — Americans bought fewer homes in August, as a worsening inventory shortage appears to be pushing prices higher and sales totals lower.

The National Association of Realtors says sales of existing homes slipped 0.9 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.33 million, the second straight monthly decline. The setbacks occurred after a period of gains that have lifted home sales up 3 percent so far this year. But fewer people are listing their homes on the market, a problem that has intensified over the past year to limit sales.

The number of homes on the market has plunged 10.1 percent from a year ago to 2.04 million. As a result, prices are climbing. The median home sales price increased 5.1 percent from a year ago to $240,200.

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