US existing-home sales jump in March

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US existing-home sales rebounded in March to the fastest pace in 18 months, pointing to solid spring sales this year, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said Wednesday.

Total sales of used homes jumped 6.1 per cent to an annual rate of 5.19 million units in March, from a pace of 4.89 million in February, NAR reported.

That marked the biggest monthly increase since December 2010, driving up the sales rate to its highest pitch since September 2013.

The March data topped the 5.05 million pace expected by analysts.

"After a quiet start to the year, sales activity picked up greatly throughout the country in March," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, in a statement.

"The combination of low interest rates and the ongoing stability in the job market is improving buyer confidence and finally releasing some of the sizable pent-up demand that accumulated in recent years."

Mortgage rates remain at historic lows. The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 3.77 per cent in March from 3.71 per cent in February, according to Freddie Mac data.

"With mortgage demand now clearly strengthening on the back of rapid employment growth and low rates, we think the outlook for the spring housing market is very positive," said Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics.

Total existing-home inventory at the end of March climbed to 2.0 million homes, 2 per cent higher than a year ago.

"The modest rise in housing supply at the end of the month despite the strong growth in sales is a welcoming sign," said Yun.

At the current sales pace, there was a 4.6-month supply, down from 4.7 months in February.

The median existing-home price was US$212,100 (S$286,400), up from $201,900 in February.

"For sales to build upon their current pace, homeowners will increasingly need to be confident in their ability to sell their home while having enough time and choices to upgrade or downsize," said Yun.

"More listings and new home construction are still needed to tame price growth and provide more opportunity for first-time buyers to enter the market."