Sales of U.S. existing homes increased 5.5. percent in October, the National Association of Realtors said on Tuesday, as homebuying bounced back after slipping in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The NAR said previously owned homes sold at a seasonally adjusted annualized pace of 5.17 million units in October, up from a revised rate of 4.90 million in September.

"This report is not surprising. We were expecting some bounce back," said NAR's Chief Economist David Lereah.

The October figure was higher than forecast by analysts, who expected existing home sales to rise by a smaller amount to an annualized rate of 4.98 million.

He added that the pace of U.S. home sales is running at 95 percent of pre-Sept. 11 levels, and that low interest rates have helped keep the housing market at healthy levels.

According to housing finance giant Freddie Mac, 30-year mortgage rates averaged 6.62 percent in October, down from 6.82 percent in Sept.

"A low interest rate environment has helped housing," Lereah said. But sales may ease in coming months, he added, because October sales were boosted by contracts which would have been closed in September had buyers not held off after the hijack attacks. And while mortgages rates are still low, they have risen slightly in recent weeks, he said.

Home sales during September plunged 11.6 percent, coming to a virtual standstill during the week of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.