Sales of existing homes unexpectedly rose in February by the largest amount in nearly three years, but analysts expressed fears that the recovery for the battered housing industry will be slowed by spreading troubles in mortgage lending.

The National Association of Realtors reported Friday that sales of existing homes rose by 3.9 percent last month, pushed higher by a sharp increase in sales activity in the Northeast. It was the biggest increase since a similar increase in March 2004.

The price of a median home sold last month dropped to $212,800, down by 1.3 percent from the same month in 2006. It marked a record seven straight months that the median home prime has fallen compared to the same period a year ago.

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