Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sales of New U.S. Homes Rebounded in March

Excerpt from Sales of New US Homes Rebounded in March
By Derek Kravitz, Associated Press

More people bought new homes in March, giving the battered industry a small lift after the worst winter for sales in almost a half-century.

New-home sales rose 11 percent last month from February to a seasonally adjusted rate of 300,000 homes, the Commerce Department said Monday. That follows three straight monthly declines. Still, the pace remains far below the 700,000 homes a year that economists view as healthy.

Builders are struggling to compete with a record number of foreclosures, which have forced down the price of re-sales and made them more of a bargain. The disparity has dragged on the economy. New homes represent a fraction of sales but they have an out-sized impact on the broader economy. Each new home creates an average of three jobs for a year and $90,000 in taxes, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Many builders are waiting for the glut of foreclosures and other distressed properties to be cleared before stepping up construction. But with 1.2 million foreclosures forecast this year nationwide, according to foreclosure tracker RealtyTrac Inc., a turnaround isn't expected for years.

High unemployment, tight credit and a lingering fear that prices will fall further have kept people from making home purchases.

The seasonally adjusted number of new homes for sale in the United States is the fewest since the summer of 1967, when there were 110 million fewer people in the country.

Requests for building permits, a gauge of future construction, sank in the winter to their lowest level in more than 50 years. They recovered somewhat in March, but that improvement was spurred by a more than 28 percent jump in permits for apartment and condo buildings.

New-home sales rose in most regions of the country last month. Sales jumped nearly 67 percent in the Northeast, which was hit hard by wintry weather; by almost 26 percent in the West, which saw a surge in buying three months ago because of a Jan. 1 deadline for a California state tax credit; and by nearly 13 percent in the Midwest. Sales fell 0.6 percent in the South, which accounts for the nation's biggest home-sale market.

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