Existing home sales pop in March
* Existing home sales popped 6.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million in March from 5.01 million in February. That was slightly better than forecasts for a sales rate of 5.29 million.
* Regionally, sales jumped across the board. They rose 6% in the Northeast, 6.6% in the West, 7.1% in the South and 7.2% in the Midwest. By property type, single family sales jumped 7.3%, while condo and coop sales gained 3.1%.
* The raw number of homes for sale inched up 1.5% to 3.584 million from 3.531 million in February. Compared with a year earlier, supply dipped 1.8%. The months supply at current sales pace indicator of inventory dropped to 8 from 8.5. Median prices gained 3.7% to $170,700 from $164,600 a month earlier. They're up 0.4% from the year-ago level of $170,000.
Home sales are on the up and up again, according to the latest figures. Sales of used homes jumped almost 7% in March, with broad-based regional gains and particular strength in the single-family market. Pricing also firmed, while the inventory picture was mixed. The renewal of the tax credit should continue to give the numbers a boost for the next month or two, though the question remains: "What's next?"
I'm fairly sanguine, frankly. While the credit expires April 30, more forces are at work here. Home prices are now reasonable in many parts of the country, and financing costs remain low. Loan standards have tightened. But a recent Fed survey found the fewest banks tightening standards further since late 2006. In other words, that's old news. Cheap home prices, an improving economy, and the highest affordability levels in a long time should keep the anemic, gradual recovery on track.