WASHINGTON — Sales of existing homes fell 0.9 percent in February after an upward revision to the prior month, as improving job prospects, cheaper homes and warm weather led to the best start to the year since the bursting of the housing bubble.
The National Association of Realtors said sales in February fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million, compared with an upwardly revised 4.63 million in January.
January sales initially were recorded at a 4.57 million annual rate. These were the best January and February levels in five years, the NAR said.
Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected February sales at a 4.6 million annual rate.
Compared with a year ago, sales were up 8.8 percent.
Lawrence Yun, the chief economist of the trade group, said he expects the gains to be sustainable, noting that unlike last year the pick-up came across the country, noting Pittsburgh; Providence, R.I.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Minneapolis among the areas of strength.
“Our (real-estate agent) members are very enthusiastic,” Yun said. “Buyers are very serious. Last year they were kicking the tires.”
“Weather may have helped but there’s something more genuine that is lifting January and February sales,” he said.
Distressed sales accounted for 34 percent of all transactions, with foreclosures accounting for 20 percent and short sales accounting for 14 percent. Yun said banks are increasingly approving short sales.