WASHINGTON – The pace of home resales in the United States picked up by 5.2 percent in February, defying forecasts for a slowdown, as warm weather boosted single-family and condo sales, according to trade group data Thursday that showed a pause in the market's cool-down.
Sales of existing U.S. homes rose to a 6.91 million unit annual rate in February, halting a string of monthly declines, the National Association of Realtors said. January's sales were revised up to a 6.57 million unit pace.
The existing homes sale figure includes both single-family homes and condos.
Analysts had forecast existing homes sales at a 6.50 million unit pace in February, down from January's originally reported 6.56 million unit pace.
But the Realtors' group called February's sales figures an aberration due to both warm weather and lower mortgage rates in January that boosted buying activity. The group's chief economist said the pace of home resales should start to slow again next month.
"What we have here is still the soft landing scenario we've been predicting," said chief economist David Lereah. "The increase we experienced today in this report is an aberration because of warm weather."
The increase in total sales - the biggest in two years - was driven by a 4.7 percent gain in the pace of single-family sales and an 8.8 percent jump in condo sales, the Realtors data showed.
But inventories also climbed 5.2 percent, leaving 3.03 million existing homes available for sale at the end of the month. That equates to 5.3 months' supply at the current sales pace.
While the sales pace increased, price rises slowed.
The median existing home price in February was $209,000, up 10.6 percent from a year ago. That is below the larger double-digit monthly increases posted in recent years, the group's data showed. Condo price appreciation stood at 3.5 percent in February.
February's pick-up in the pace of existing home sales signaled a pause in the housing market slowdown that began in fall 2005. The housing sector has been moderating after a years-long rally that shattered sales and construction records and sent prices up more than 55 percent nationwide.