Sales of new single-family houses in March rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.2 million units, up 8.9 percent from the previous month, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


The annualized sales rate for March was nearly 9 percent higher than February’s seasonally adjusted 1.1-million-unit pace and 21.8 percent above the March 2003 estimate of 1 million units.


The market is very strong and interest rates are still very attractive,” said David Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders. “Though interest rates are beginning to rise as the economy improves, we still expect the housing market to remain strong because the fundamentals–household incomes, employment and household formations–are strong.”


Three regions registered sales increases for the month. The South posted the largest increase with a 19.3 percent gain. The Midwest posted a 5 percent gain, and the West registered a 5.1 percent sales increase. Sales in the Northeast declined 24.3 percent for the month, but sales for the first quarter of the year–an increase of 28.7 percent over first quarter 2003–was the highest percentage change of all four regions.


The median sales price of new houses sold last month was $201,400, and the average sales price was $260,800.


The inventory of new homes for sale in March was 372,000 units, representing a very low 3.7-month supply at the current sales pace. “The supply-demand balance in the new-home market is very, very healthy,” Seiders said. “Builders are not overextending production. Only about a quarter of the inventory is houses that are actually completed and for sale, with the remainder representing units under construction or not yet started.”


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