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New home sales up 12.2%
The median sales price, however, dipped to $212,300 in March, from $234,100 in February.
April 26, 2005: 10:34 AM EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sales of new U.S. homes unexpectedly jumped 12.2 percent in March, striking a record high, as sales increased in three of four U.S. regions, a government report showed on Tuesday.

New single-family home sales rose to a 1.431 million unit pace last month from an upwardly revised annual rate of 1.275 million in February, the Commerce Department said. The 12.2 percent increase was the largest monthly jump since September 1993, when new home sales rose 12.6 percent.

Economists had expected sales to decline to a 1.195 million unit rate from the originally reported 1.226 million unit pace originally reported in February.

Sales jumped 21.9 percent in the Midwest, 13.8 percent in the South and 9.9 percent in the West, but fell 8.9 percent in the Northeast.

Low mortgage rates have supported the housing sector, generating economic growth in recent years. While industry analysts and economists have said they expect home sales to edge off their record 2004 levels as the Federal Reserve raises rates, demand has not weakened. In the first 3 months of the year, new home sales are running 9.2 percent above the same period a year earlier, the Commerce Department said.

In a report on Monday, the National Association of Realtors said sales of existing U.S. homes rose to their third-highest level even as the median home price soared 11.4 percent, the largest jump in nearly 25 years.

The supply of homes has also thinned out. In March, the supply of new homes for sale at the current pace was 3.6 percent, down 16.3 percent from February and marking the biggest decline in supply since a 17.2 percent drop in February 1996.

The national median sales price on a new home, however, dipped in March to $212,300 compared with $234,100 reported for February.


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