- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. previously occupied home sales dipped last month but the sales pace for the winter was the best in five years.

The National Association of Realtors says home sales fell 0.9 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million. That followed a revised 4.63 million sold in January — the highest level since May 2010.

The last three months have been the best for winter sales in five years. The progress is encouraging ahead of the spring buying season, although sales remain below the 6 million that economists equate with healthy markets.

First-time buyers, who are critical to a housing recovery, fell slightly to 32 percent of all purchases, down from 33 percent in January. In healthy markets, first-time buyers make up at least 40 percent.

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