WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans bought fewer previously owned homes in March, a reminder that the housing market remains weak.
The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that home sales fell 2.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.48 million. That followed a revised 4.6 million sold in February.
A mild winter may have encouraged more people to buy earlier, essentially stealing sales from March.
The first three months of 2012 made up the best winter for sales in five years. The increase offers some encouragement ahead of the spring-buying season. Still, sales remain far below the 6 million per year that economists equate with healthy markets.
First-time buyers, who are critical to a housing recovery, rose to 33 percent of all purchases last month. In healthy markets, they make up at least 40 percent.
The supply of homes on the market fell 1.3 percent last month to 2.37 million, which could help drive up prices further in the coming months.
One reason is that home foreclosures declined, although they are still high. Homes at risk of foreclosure made up 29 percent of sales, down from 34 percent in February. In healthier markets, foreclosures make up less than 10 percent of sales.