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Existing home sales rise 2%
Sales of pre-owned homes, biggest sector of housing market, accelerate in February.
March 25, 2004: 12:38 PM EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sales of existing U.S. homes rose 2.0 percent in February as home buyers took advantage of low mortgage interest rates, a report by the National Association of Realtors showed Thursday.

Sales of previously owned homes climbed to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.12 million units from a revised 6.00 million rate in January, the real estate group said. The rate was in line with the expectation of analysts polled by Reuters who had forecast a 6.15 million unit rate.

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NAR Chief Economist David Lereah said he is likely to revise his home-sale forecast for 2004 upward because mortgage interest rates have slid since the beginning of the year.

"We see the housing sector continuing to remain healthy throughout the remainder of this year. We will revise our forecast upward -- again," he said.

Existing home sales reached a record high of 6.1 million units in 2003 as mortgage interest rates hovered not far above lows not seen since the early 1960s.

Inventories in February swelled 5.9 percent from January to a total of 2.33 million homes available for sale, or 4.6 months' supply at the current sales pace.

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The median sale price of a pre-owned home jumped 5.7 percent from the same month a year earlier to $168,100.

Sales of new U.S. homes surged unexpectedly in February to their highest level since August, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

Despite expectations mortgage interest rates would rise this year as the U.S. economy recovered, rates have dropped since the beginning of the year to levels close to the lows of last June as uncertainty about the economic recovery and job creation have persisted.  Top of page

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