WASHINGTON — Sales of new single-family houses rose 1.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 417,000 in March, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

The accelerated sales pace followed an unrevised rate of 411,000 in February.

The March rate was a bit short of that projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters, who foresaw a 420,000 unit pace. The sales rate was 18.5% above the March 2012 level of 352,000.

New home sales were regionally uneven. Sales jumped 20.6%% in the Northeast and 19.4% in the South, while falling 20.9% in the West and 12.1% in the Midwest.

The median sales price of new houses dropped 6.8% to $247,000 in March, from the revised February median price of $264,900. On a year-over-year basis, the median price climbed 3% above $239,800 in March 2012.

The seasonally adjusted estimate of new homes for sale at the end of March was 153,000, an increase from February's revised supply of 150,000 and the most since there were 155,000 homes available in November 2011. The March figure represents a supply of 4.4 months at the current sales rate.

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