Existing Home Sales Up in March

Sales of existing U.S. homes rose 1.0 percent in March to the third-highest level on record as an increase in single-family sales offset a dip in sales of condominiums, the National Association of Realtors (search) said Monday.

Sales of previously owned homes rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.89 million units last month, the trade group said. That figure includes both single-family homes and condominiums.

Single-family home sales increased 1.2 percent in March to a 6.04 million unit rate from a 5.97 million unit rate in February. Condo sales fell 0.1 percent to a 845,000 unit rate from an 846,000 unit pace in February.

Analysts had expected overall sales to climb to a 6.80 million unit rate.

The national median home price jumped 11.4 percent to $195,000 from the same month a year ago, the NAR report showed. That price increase was the biggest since December 1980, when prices rose 11.5 percent, NAR said.

"The market is very strong," said NAR Chief Economist David Lereah. "The problem in this country is housing supply. It's still very lean."

In March, the supply of homes for sale at the current pace was 4 months' worth, down from 4.2 months' worth in February.

"We still have this awkward balance between demand and supply," Lereah said.

Home sales have been bolstered by low mortgage rates for more than a year, but some analysts said the housing sector has begun to show signs of easing. Last week, a Commerce Department (search) report showed a 17.6 percent plunge in housing starts for March.

The national average long-term fixed mortgage rate was 5.93 percent in March, up from 5.63 percent the month before, according to Freddie Mac (search).