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Last updated: April 22. 2013 11:22PM - 499 Views

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WASHINGTON — Sales of previously occupied U.S. homes dipped in March as the supply remained tight. But the sales pace remained ahead of last year’s.


The National Association of Realtors said Monday that sales dipped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.92 million, from 4.95 million in February. February’s figure was revised lower.


Sales in March were 10.3 percent higher than a year earlier.


Sales have remained mostly unchanged in the past four months — largely, analysts say, because of a limited supply of homes. Economists still expect the housing market to continue recovering this year.


The low supply, combined with rising demand for housing, could accelerate construction in coming months. The Realtors’ group said buyer traffic is 25 percent higher than it was a year ago.


“A disappointing result for U.S. existing-home sales, but with inventories still very tight, the outlook remains favorable,” Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets, said in a note to clients.


A steady housing recovery is providing support to the economy this year. Builders are starting work on more homes, boosting construction jobs. And home prices are rising. Higher prices tend to make homeowners feel wealthier and encourage more spending.


Still, the pace of purchases of previously occupied homes has been little changed in recent months, partly because of the tight inventory. The supply of available homes has fallen nearly 17 percent in the past year to 1.93 million.


At the current sales pace, that supply would be exhausted in 4.7 months, below the 6 months typical in a healthy market.


The supply rose 1.6 percent from February to March. The Realtors’ group says it expects a much bigger increase in supply this month as the spring selling season began.


A larger supply would suggest that more sellers are putting their homes on the market because they’re confident they can fetch a good price.


The tight supply helps explain why prices have been rising. The median price rose 11.8 percent from February to March to $184,300, the biggest one-month gain since 2005.


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