The rate of existing-home sales climbed for the second straight month in March but was 0.7 percent lower than the March 2005 level, the National Association of Realtors trade group reported today.

Total existing-home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – rose 0.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.92 million units in March from a pace of 6.9 million in February, but was below the 6.97 million-unit level in March 2005.

The rate of existing-home sales dropped from 7.21 million in August 2005 to 6.57 million in January 2006 before the recent rebound.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate is a projection of a monthly sales total over a 12-month period, adjusted for seasonal fluctuations in sales activity.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $218,000 in March, up 7.4 percent from March 2005 when the median was $203,000. The median is a typical market price where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less. Historic price data has been revised back to 1989, including updates to reflect geographic changes over time, but price patterns are consistent with previously reported data.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 6.32 percent in March, up from 6.25 percent in February – the rate was 5.93 percent in March 2005.

Total housing inventory levels rose 7 percent at the end of March to 3.19 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.5-month supply at the current sales pace, the association reported.

Single-family home sales rose 0.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.07 million in March from 6.05 million in February, and were 0.5 percent below the 6.1 million-unit pace in March 2005. The median existing single-family home price was $217,300 in March, up 7.8 percent from a year ago.

Existing condominium and cooperative housing sales increased 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 854,000 units in March from a level of 852,000 in February, but dropped 2 percent below the 871,000-unit pace a year ago. The median existing condo price was $225,500 in March, up 6.1 percent from March 2005.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 1.7 percent to an annual sales rate of 1.19 million units in March, and were 2.6 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $275,000, up 5 percent from March 2005.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest increased 1.2 percent to a pace of 1.63 million in March, and rose 3.8 percent above the March 2005 level. The median existing-home price in the Midwest was $160,000, up 2.6 percent from a year earlier.

In the South, existing-home sales slipped 0.7 percent in March to a level of 2.67 million, but increased 1.5 percent over March 2005. The median price in the South was $181,000, up 6.5 percent from March 2005.

Existing-home sales in the West slid 0.7 percent to an annual pace of 1.43 million in March, and fell 12.3 percent below March 2005. The median price in the West was $341,000, up 8.3 percent from a year ago.

David Lereah, NAR’s chief economist, said in a statement, “It’s a good sign to see home sales holding close to the level of a strong rebound in the month before. This is additional evidence that we’re experiencing a soft landing. We may see some minor slowing in home sales as interest rates rise, but the market clearly is stabilizing.” Lereah said he expects 2006 to be the third-strongest year on record for home sales.

“We now see appreciation cooling to single-digit rates of price growth – another sign that the market is normalizing,” Lereah said.

Thomas M. Stevens, NAR president and senior vice president of NRT Inc., said in a statement, “Changing waters require navigational adjustments, and this is especially true for home sellers in most areas who are now dealing with buyers that are on equal footing – it’s no longer a seller’s market.”

The National Association of Realtors represents about 1.2 million members in the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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