Existing home sales in the U.S. showed an unexpected decrease in the month of March, according to a report released by the National Association of Realtors on Thursday, although sales remain above the level seen in the same month a year ago.
NAR said existing home sales fell 2.6 percent to an annual rate of 4.48 million in March from an upwardly revised 4.60 million in February. The drop surprised economists, who had expected existing home sales to edge up to 4.62 million from the 4.59 million originally reported for the previous month.
Despite the second consecutive monthly decrease, existing home sales in March were still up by 5.2 percent compared to the 4.26 million-unit rate in March of 2011.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said, "The recovery is happening though not at a breakout pace, but we have seen nine consecutive months of year-over-year sales increases."
"Existing-home sales are moving up and down in a fairly narrow range that is well above the level of activity during the first half of last year," he added.
The report also showed that there were 2.37 million existing homes available for sale at the end of March, reflecting a 1.3 percent drop from February. The number of homes available for sale represents 6.3 months of supply at the current sales rate, unchanged from the previous month.
NAR also said the national median existing-home price for all housing types was $163,800 in March, up 5.3 percent from $155,600 in February and up 2.5 percent from $159,800 in March of 2011.
The drop in existing home sales in March was partly due to a 2.5 percent decrease in sales of single-family homes. Sales of existing condominiums and co-ops also fell by 3.8 percent.
Existing home sales in the West showed a notable 7.4 percent drop, while existing home sales in the Northeast and the South fell by 1.7 percent and 1.1 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, existing home sales in the Midwest were unchanged.
Looking ahead, Yun said, "With job growth, low interest rates, bargain home prices and an improving economy, the pent-up demand is coming to market and we expect housing to be notably better this year."
Next Tuesday, the Commerce Department is scheduled to release its report on new home sales in the month of March.
New home sales dropped 1.6 percent to an annual rate of 313,000 in February from a downwardly revised 318,000 in January.
by RTT Staff Writer
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