- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2009

Home sales decreased by 3 percent in March compared to the previous month, according to a National Association of Realtors report Thursday morning.

Existing-home sales — which includes single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops — declined from 4.71 million units in February to 4.57 million units last month, the report states. The March number also was 7.1 percent lower than the roughly 4.92 million units sold in March 2008.

The group also reported first-time buyers are taking advantage of tax credits and low mortgage rates to buy homes and support the market.

“The market appears to be stabilizing with modest monthly ups and downs, and first-time buyers are driving the market,” said Lawrence Yun, the group’s chief economist.

He also said sales of lower-priced homes have increased, indicating a return of first-time buyers to the housing market. However, expensive homes remain a hard sell because of higher interest rates on jumbo loans.

Home prices increased from February to March, but the average price of $175,200 was down 12.4 percent from March 2008, according to the report.

The price increase from February to March was 4.2 percent, which was higher than the typical 1.8 percent seasonal increase between the months.

First-time buyers accounted for 53 percent of transactions, but the figure was based mostly on contracts offered before the $8,000 first-time, home-buyer tax credit became available, the report states.

Distressed properties, which accounted for roughly 50 percent of transactions in March, are selling for about 20 percent less than traditional homes.

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