By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 25, 2009 10:40 AM
New homes sales unexpectedly jumped 4.7 percent in February, but prices continue to tumble as buyers make their way through a huge backlog of unsold homes.
Sales of new single-family homes reached an seasonally adjusted annual rate of 337,000 in February, according to the Commerce Department data. Analysts had expected sales to continue to fall. That figure is down 41 percent from the same period a year ago.
Sales continued to drop last month in the Northeast and Midwest, 3.3 percent and 9.1 percent, respectively. But sales surged 9.7 percent in the South, which includes the Washington region. Sales were up 6.6 percent in the West.
Even though sales remain weak, the market may be stabilizing, Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics, said in a research note. "That's not the same as a recovery, but it is better than continued declines in sales," he said.
Increasing sales came at the expense of median home prices, which fell to $200,900 compared with $245,300 in February 2008.
There are also still far too many homes on the market. At the current sales rate, it would take more than a year, 12.2 months, to sell all the new homes available.
This report follows better than expected existing-home sales figures released earlier this week, which showed sales increased 5.1 percent in February as first-time buyers snapped up cheap homes. And last week, government data showed new-home construction jumped 22 percent in February, rebounding from record lows.