WASHINGTON – Sales of existing homes fell 0.9 percent in February after an upward revision to the prior month, but improving job prospects, cheaper homes and warm weather led to the best start to the year since the bursting of the housing bubble five years ago.
The National Association of Realtors said sales in February fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million, compared with an upwardly revised 4.63 million in January. January sales initially were recorded at a 4.57 million annual rate.
These were the best January and February levels in five years, the NAR said.
Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected February sales at a 4.6 million annual rate.
Compared with a year ago, sales were up 8.8 percent.
Lawrence Yun, the chief economist of the trade group, said he expects the gains to be sustainable, noting that unlike last year the pick-up came across the country, noting Pittsburgh; Providence, R.I.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Minneapolis among the areas of strength.
“Our (real-estate agent) members are very enthusiastic,” Yun said. “Buyers are very serious. Last year they were kicking the tires.”
Yun acknowledged that unusually warm weather helped sales this winter but said that wasn’t the only factor.
“Weather may have helped but there’s something more genuine that is lifting January and February sales,” he said.
The median price of an existing home rose 0.3 percent to $156,600 compared with the year-ago period. Median prices typically are less in the winter because fewer families move during the school year, so smaller homes are sold.
While slight, that was the first year-on-year increase in prices since November 2010.
Inventories rose 4.3 percent to 2.43 million, or 6.4 months of supply. Inventories typically rise from February through the summer months.