WASHINGTON – Sales of existing U.S. homes fell 0.4 percent in February, while home prices rose at double-digit rates, a trade association report showed Wednesday.
Sales of previously owned homes declined to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.79 million units last month, the National Association of Realtors (search) said. That figure includes both single-family homes and condominiums.
Single-family home (search) sales slid 0.3 percent in February to a 5.94 million unit rate from a 5.96 million unit pace in January. Condo sales dropped 1.2 percent to an 848,000 unit rate from an 858,000 unit pace in January.
Analysts had expected sales to fall to a 6.70 million unit rate from January's upwardly revised 6.82 million clip.
The national median home price jumped 11.0 percent to $191,000 from the same month a year earlier, the NAR report showed.
David Lereah, the group's chief economist, said the housing market appeared to be in the early stages of settling down.
"Home sales were surging at unprecedented levels for most of last year," he said. "The cooling we expect in sales this year means we'll be transitioning from a white-hot housing market into a very strong market that still favors home sellers, but should become more balanced as the year progresses."
In February, the supply of homes for sale at the current pace was 4.2 months' worth, up from 3.8 months' worth in January.
"The report showed a negligible decline. Obviously housing ... is holding at a pretty steady level here," said Susan Stearns, vice president of institutional foreign exchange sales at the Bank of Montreal in New York.
"It doesn't alter the scenario whatsoever. If anything, it underscores the fact that the economy is cooking nicely along," she added.
Home sales have been bolstered by low mortgage rates. According to mortgage finance company Freddie Mac (FRE), the national average long-term fixed mortgage rate was 5.63 percent in February, down from 5.71 percent the month before.