Home sales fall to lowest level since mid-2012

WASHINGTON - Sales of existing U.S. homes slipped in March to their lowest level since July 2012 as rising prices and a tight supply of available homes discouraged many would-be buyers.

The National Association of Realtors says sales edged down 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million. It was the seventh drop in the past eight months.

"There really should be stronger levels of home sales given our population growth," said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun in a statement. "In contrast, price growth is rising faster than historical norms because of inventory shortages."

Sales rose in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest, suggesting that cold winter weather did not slow sales. And the realtors' group says the scant decline shows that sales are stabilizing and may strengthen in the coming months as the spring buying season picks up.

"At least part of the net weakening likely reflects weather effects, although, even without weather effects, sales have clearly slowed since early last year," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist with High Frequency Economics, in a client note. "Along with last year's jump in mortgage rates, realtors have also cited more limited inventories, particularly of foreclosed homes."

Many realtors report seeing more potential buyers at open houses. Fewer homes for sale, higher mortgage rates and rising prices have contributed to lower sales since last summer.