Homebuyers were out in force in March, raising the existing-home sales rate both month-to-month and year-over-year, according to a report by the National Association of Realtors.

Sales of existing single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops jumped 16.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million units compared with 4.61 million units in March 2009, the report said. Sales rose 6.8 percent from February’s 5.01 million units.

"Sales have been above year-ago levels for nine straight months, and inventory has trended down from year-ago levels for 20 months running," said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. "The homebuyer tax credit has been a resounding success as these underlying trends point to a broad stabilization in home prices."

The federal homebuyer tax credits — up to $8,000 for first-time buyers and up to $6,500 for repeat buyers — are set to expire April 30. Homebuyers must have a signed sales contract by that date and must close the transaction by June 30.

First-timers bought 44 percent of homes in March, compared with 42 percent the month before, according to a NAR practitioner survey. Investor purchases stayed steady at 19 percent of home purchases and repeat buyers bought the rest, the survey said. The same share as in February, 27 percent, were all-cash sales.

Although raw unsold inventory went up 1.5 percent from February to 3.58 million units, because of the increased sales pace housing supply in March fell to eight months from 8.5 months in February.

"Foreclosures have been feeding into the inventory pipeline at a fairly steady pace and are being absorbed manageably," Yun said. "In fact, foreclosures are selling quickly, especially in the lower price ranges that are attractive to first-time homebuyers."

The median home price for resale homes was $170,700 in March, up 3.4 percent from February and up 0.4 percent from March 2009. Distressed properties made up the same share of home sales as in February: 35 percent, NAR reported.

Those properties typically sell at a 15 percent discount, the report said. Sales under $250,000 made up the vast majority of all existing-home sales: 71.2 percent.

Fourteen out of 20 metro areas nationwide saw median sales price increases. San Diego saw the biggest rise: 20.4 percent to $393,600. Of those that saw decreases, Baltimore’s median price fell the most: 3.5 percent to $236,800. …CONTINUED

All but New Orleans also saw sales increases. San Antonio, Texas, saw the biggest jump: 29.7 percent. New Orleans sales fell 2.3 percent.

The rate of existing-home sales rebounded the most since last year in the Northeast: up 6 percent month-to-month and 25.4 percent year-over-year in March to an annual rate of 890,000 units, the report said. The region’s median price also increased 8.9 percent year-over-year to $249,800.

In the Midwest, sales rose 7.2 percent month-to-month and 15.5 percent year-over-year to 1.19 million units. Median price remained mostly flat year-over-year, rising 0.2 percent to $139,300.

The South saw sales rise 7.1 percent month-to-month and 14.9 percent year-over-year to 1.97 million. Median price rose 5.2 percent year-over-year to $154,800.

The West was the only region where the median price fell year-over-year: 7.9 percent to $209,400. Nevertheless, as in the rest of the country, the region also saw existing-home sales increase: 6.6 percent month-to-month and 14 percent year-over-year to 1.3 million units.

The year-over-year increase in sales was less pronounced in California than in the rest of the West: up 2.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted 516,590 units, according to a separate report by the California Association of Realtors. The median sales price for existing single-family homes in the Golden State rose 20.8 percent year-over-year, to $301,790.

"The March year-to-year median price gain of 20.8 percent was the largest in more than five years. With the number of homes for sale in the state expected to remain lean, gains in the statewide median price may well outpace the nation going forward," said Steve Goddard, CAR president.

Housing supply fell to five months, compared with a revised 5.6 months in March 2009, the report said. A supply of six months generally represents a rough equilibrium between a buyer’s market and a seller’s market, and inventory below six months can indicate a seller’s market.

The cities with the state’s highest year-over-year median home-price increases were: Pittsburg, 42.3 percent; Arcadia, 40.2 percent; National City, 37.7 percent; Auburn, 34.1 percent; Lodi, 33.3 percent; and Richmond, 30.4 percent, according to CAR and real estate data company Dataquick Information Systems.

The San Francisco Bay Area saw the state’s biggest regional median price increase from March 2009: 34.8 percent to $544,120. The Santa Barbara South Coast region — the state’s most expensive at a median price of $890,000 — saw the biggest year-over-year sales increase: 33.3 percent.


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