U.S. existing home sales touch three-year high

WASHINGTON, March 21 Thu Mar 21, 2013 10:00am EDT

WASHINGTON, March 21 (Reuters) - U.S. home resales hit a three-year high in February and prices jumped, adding to signs of an acceleration in the housing market recovery, even though the supply of properties on the market increased.

The National Association of Realtors said on Thursday existing home sales increased 0.8 percent to an annual rate of 4.98 million units last month, the highest level since November 2009. The January sales pace was revised up a 4.94 million units from the previously reported 4.92 million units.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected home resales to rise to a 5 million-unit rate.

The rise in sales last month was the latest indication that the housing market was gaining more ground. Data this week showed builders broke ground on more houses in February and permits for future construction approached a five-year high.

A very accommodative monetary policy by the Federal Reserve, which has held mortgage rates near record lows, is helping to lift the housing market off the floor and lending the economy much needed support.

Last month, the inventory of unsold homes on the market increased 9.6 percent to 1.94 million. That represented a 4.7 months' supply at February's sales pace, up from 4.3 months in January.

Still, it remained below the 6.0 months that is normally considered as a healthy balance between supply and demand.

The median home sales price in February rose 11.6 percent from a year ago to $173,6000.

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