New-home sales rise fastest in 47 years

By Chavon Sutton, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- New home sales improved in March at the fastest single-month rate in 47 years, according to a government report released Friday, as buyers snatched up properties ahead of the tax credit that's set to expire.

New-home sales rose 26.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 411,000 last month, compared to an upwardly revised annual rate of 324,000 in February, the Census Bureau said. The gain snapped a four-month streak of declines.

A consensus of economists surveyed by Briefing.com expected March sales to rise to an annual rate of 330,000.

The March sales were the strongest since last July, and the percentage gain was the biggest on a month-over-month basis since a 31% gain in March 1963.

New-home sales spiked in every region of the United States. The South saw the biggest jump in new home sales, up 43.5%, while the Northeast region saw sales climb 35.7%. The West and Midwest regions both saw single-digit percentage growth, with the West up 6% and the Midwest up 4%.

The Census Bureau data followed a report from the National Association of Realtors on Thursday that showed existing home sales soared nearly 7% in March, as new homebuyers raced to buy up properties before a tax credit expires on April 30.

"It's obvious that homebuyers are rushing in to take advantage of the tax credit that's set to expire," said Robert Dye, senior economist for PNC Financial Services.

In November, the government extended and expanded an $8,000 tax credit, which also allows some repeat buyers to qualify for a $6,500 credit. Buyers have until April 30 to qualify.

Fewer homes to buy

Dye expects to see continued strength in April's data before "tailing off" through the summer as the group of buyers who rushed in are "all spent out."

The Census Bureau estimated that 228,000 new homes hit the market in March. At the current sales rate, it would take 6.7 months to sell through that inventory, down sharply from an estimated 9.2 months of inventory in February.

Although new-home sales in March exceeded analyst expectations, sales are still trending near record lows, and prices are still under pressure due to oversupply.

"It's a very good sign to see [the March inventory] number down," said Dye. "But this needs to tighten up more to see upward pressure on prices."

The average price of a new home was $258,600, according to the Census Bureau. That was virtually flat compared to a year earlier, and 12% below average prices in 2008.

A precarious jobs market continues to threaten the housing market. Dye expects the April unemployment rate to dip to a still-high 9.6% from March's 9.7% when data are announced May 7.

"Firming house prices and an improving jobs market will make recovery felt on Main Street as well as Wall Street," said Dye. "We're headed in the right direction."  To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,804.71 -238.19 -1.40%
Nasdaq 4,422.09 -71.31 -1.59%
S&P 500 1,946.16 -26.13 -1.32%
Treasuries 2.42 0.01 0.54%
Data as of 9:19am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Applied Materials In... 20.96 -0.65 -3.01%
Regions Financial Co... 9.89 -0.15 -1.49%
American Internation... 52.96 -1.06 -1.96%
Medtronic Inc 62.47 0.82 1.34%
Huntington Bancshare... 9.60 -0.13 -1.34%
Data as of Oct 1

Sections

Angry Birds maker Rovio Entertainment cuts 16% of its workforce as the Finish company refocuses on its core businesses. More

In the last five years, pumpkin sales have risen 34% as people demand pumpkin in everything from beer to beef jerky. More

New York City launches a comprehensive site for all things related to its digital tech scene, Digital.NYC. More

For these seniors, the best retirement is not to retire. From a 102-year-old Wal-Mart worker to an activist park ranger, these workers have stayed on the job well into their golden years. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.