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New-Home Sales Down 3 Percent In March Following Upwardly Revised January, February Numbers

April 26, 2002

Home Prices Remain Solid in First Quarter

WASHINGTON -- Providing further evidence that the market for new single-family homes remains on an even keel, the Commerce Department today revised substantially upward its previous reports on January and February home sales and reported a healthy, seasonally adjusted annual rate of 878,000 sales in March - down 3.1 percent from an exceptionally strong 906,000-unit rate in the previous month.

"Today's sales report confirms that the new-homes market had a very good first quarter, aided in part by extremely favorable weather conditions in the first two months and low interest rates on home mortgages, which continue in the 7 percent range," said Gary Garczynski, president of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a builder/developer from Woodbridge, Va.

Revised figures for January and February home sales indicated an 853,000-unit sales rate in the first month of this year, followed by a 906,000-unit rate in the second month. This was up from previously reported 831,000-unit and 875,000-unit rates, respectively.

"Recent speculation of a housing price 'bubble' is refuted by this report, which shows that home prices are moving up nicely throughout most of the nation," Garczynski added. He pointed to Commerce

Department figures indicating that the median U.S. home price rose 6.8 percent between the fourth quarter of 2001 and first quarter of 2002, and rose 6.25 percent between March 2001 and March 2002, to a level of $176,700. "This is welcome news for home builders as the spring buying season begins," he said, "as well as for buyers who rightfully view homes as very good investments."

Most of the 3.1 percent decline in March home sales occurred in the Northeast and Midwest, two regions where unusually good weather conditions had boosted sales activity earlier in the year. Sales fell back 4.4 percent and 19.3 percent, respectively, in those regions in March. Meanwhile, sales slipped by a barely perceptible 0.2 percent in the South and rose 3.3 percent in the West.

The number of new homes for sale in March was unchanged from February's 311,000 units, and only one-fourth of the homes for sale were completed units. "The fact that builders are keeping inventories lean is another good sign for the market," said Garczynksi.

"Now that the housing industry has helped lead the economy to recovery in this year's first quarter, it probably will be passing the baton to the manufacturing sector and others to become key engines of growth," Garczynski added. "Meanwhile, housing production and sales should settle into healthy, sustainable patterns as the economic expansion evolves throughout this year."

NAHB is currently forecasting about 900,000 new home sales for all of 2002, approaching the record-setting 908,000 new homes sold in 2001.

Source: National Association of Home Builders

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