- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 25 (UPI) — The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday sales of existing single-family homes declined 4.3 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.84 million units from a record pace of 6.10 million units in January.

Despite the decline, the NAR said February's performance was still the fourth highest pace since the group began keeping records back in 1968.

Most economists were expecting sales to decline 4.8 percent during the month.

David Lereah, NAR's chief economist, said, "After reaching an unprecedented level in January, it was no surprise to see existing-home sales drop in February.

"A disruption in normal buying patterns, resulting from large areas of the country being buried in snow for days on end, may show in later data. Even so, generally strong sales are expected this year assuming the war in Iraq is not prolonged," Lereah said.

NAR President Cathy Whatley, said the housing market continues to enjoy the support of historically low mortgage interest rates.

"In additional to a strong fundamental demand for housing, economic uncertainty is favoring more stable investments such as homeownership," Whatley said.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was a record-low 5.84 percent in February, down from 5.92 percent in January.

The latest report from the NAR showed the national median existing-home price was $161,600 in February, up 8.2 percent from February 2002 when the median price was $149,400. The median is a typical market price where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less.

The group said housing inventory levels dropped 6.6 percent at the end of February with 2.14 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 4.4-month supply at the current sales pace. In January there was a 4.5-month supply of homes on the market.

Regionally, the NAR said homes in the Midwest were reselling at an annual rate of 1.30 million units in February, up 4.8 percent from January. Existing-home sales in the Northeast slipped 2.9 percent from January to a pace of 680,000 units in February.

Sales declined 8 percent in the South to an annual rate of 2.30 million units.

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