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Existing home sales soar in March

By Julianne Pepitone, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Existing home sales jumped 6.8% in March, with home buyers racing to get a tax credit that expires in April, according to a real estate industry report released Thursday.

The National Association of Realtors reported that existing home sales rose last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million units, up from the revised rate of 5.01 million in February. Sales year-over-year were up 16.1%.

Analysts surveyed by Briefing.com had expected the March sales rate to hit just 5.29 million annual units.

Home resales have been above year-ago levels for nine straight months, according to the report.

"Buoyed by the unseasonably warm weather, home owners were out en masse scooping-up bargain-priced real estate," said Bob Walters, chief economist at Quicken Loans, in a research note.

In its February report, NAR said winter storms hurt figures for the month.

"Adding to the increase in sales [for March] is the looming deadline of the government's home buyer tax credit," Walters said.

First-time home buyers can qualify for a tax credit of up to $8,000, while those who are trading up could get as much as $6,500. In either case, buyers must sign contracts by the end of April and close the deal before July 1 in order to get the credit.

Legislators have twice extended the deadline to obtain the tax credit, but a further extension is not expected.

The tax credit "has been a resounding success," NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun, said in a prepared statement. "This is preserving perhaps $1 trillion in largely middle class housing wealth that may have been wiped out."

Price and inventory: The median price of homes sold in March was $170,000, up 0.4% from March 2009. Distressed properties made up 35% of the houses sold during the month.

Total housing inventory rose 1.5% to 3.58 million existing homes for sale. That's an 8-month supply at the current selling pace, down from and 8.5 month supply in February.

Sales by property type: Single-family home sales rose 7.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.68 million in March from a pace of 4.36 million in February, and were 13.3% above the pace 12 months ago.

Condominium and co-op sales rose 3.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 670,000 units in March, from 650,000 in February, and were 39.3% above March 2008's rate.

Sales by region: Total existing home sales rose the most in the Midwest, up 7.2% in March to an annual pace of 1.19 million. That's up 15.5% from a year ago.

Sales in the South rose 7.1% to an annual rate of 1.97 million; the West gained 6.6% to 1.3 million; and the Northeast was up 6% to 890,000.  To top of page

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