Sales of new homes in U.S. climbed to 417,000 rate in March

Purchases of new U.S. homes rose in March, capping the best quarter for the industry since 2008 and providing more evidence the housing recovery will be sustained.

Sales of single-family properties climbed 1.5% last month to a 417,000 annual pace from a 411,000 rate in February, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The median estimate of 76 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for March sales to rise to 416,000.

A dearth of existing properties is encouraging builders to undertake new projects that will keep fueling the economy. Mortgage rates close to record lows, higher home values and rising household formation are helping lay the groundwork for increased buyer traffic in 2013.

“The housing sector continues to be the bright spot for the economy,” said Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies LLC in New York, who projected a 418,000 pace of home purchases. “Inventories are light, which means that builders are going to keeping building.”

Home sales averaged a 424,000 annual rate in the first three months of this year, the strongest since the third quarter of 2008.

Stocks maintained gains after the figures and as earnings from Travelers Cos. to Netflix Inc. beat estimates. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.8% to 1,575.29 at 10:18 a.m. in New York.

Economists’ estimates ranged from a March sales rate of 395,000 to 435,000. February was previously reported at a 411,000 annual rate.

Rising Prices

New-home purchases were 17.6% higher in March than the same period in 2012 on an unadjusted basis, today’s report showed. The median price of a new home climbed 3% last month from a year ago to $247,000.

Purchases increased in two of four regions in March, with a 20.6% gain in the Northeast and a 19.4% advance in the South. Sales decreased 20.9% in the West and 12.1% in the Midwest.

Builders are responding to increased demand by making more homes available. There were 153,000 new houses on the market at the end of March, the most since November 2011. At the current sales rate, the supply would last 4.4 months, the same as in February.

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