WASHINGTON — Existing home sales fell 0.6% to a seasonally adjusted 4.92 million-unit rate in March, following a revised 4.95 million rate in February, the National Association of Realtors announced Monday.
The February sales rate was originally reported as a 4.98 million pace.
The sales rate was well short of the 5.01 million estimate of economists polled by Thomson Reuters.
The rate is a 10.3% increase from March 2012. The sales rate has now been above the previous year's levels for 21 consecutive months, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said.
The regional sales data showed mixed, but very modest monthly changes. Sales remained unchanged in the Northeast and rose 1.8% in the Midwest, while the rate fell 1.5% in the South and 1.7% in the West.
The median sales price stood at $184,300, a 6.4% jump from the previous month and an 11.8% gain from a year ago. The month-over-month gain was the largest since November 2005.
Yun said the sharp increase in median price was a product of the market moving more quickly at the top end, which is also outpacing national pay increases and creating a harmful situation for prospective homeowners.
"That is an unhealthy gap that is developing for home buyers," he said.
Housing inventory levels rose 2.2% from the previous month to 1.93 million existing homes, representing a 4.7-month supply at the current pace. Inventory was down 24.2% from the March 2012 level, when it was a 6.2-month supply.
"We are still at an inventory tight shortage situation," Yun said, adding that NAR would prefer to see inventory reach the six-month supply level. Only increased home building could relieve the inventory shortage, he said.
"We did see some housing starts coming around in recent data," said Yun, "but it still needs to increase."