Sales of previously owned U.S. homes probably increased in March as a drop in mortgage rates propelled demand to its strongest quarter in almost two years.
Purchases climbed 0.7 percent to a 4.62 million annual rate from 4.59 million in February, according to the median estimate of 72 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Sales in the first three months of the year would average 4.61 million at an annual pace, the best since April through June 2010. Jobless claims declined last week, other data may show.
An improved labor market, mortgage rates near historic lows and cheaper properties are shoring up an industry that’s been the economy’s soft spot. At the same time, further progress in residential real estate is being challenged by distressed properties and the threat of more foreclosures.
“Better jobs, better income, better affordability and lower mortgage rates mean you will sell more homes,” said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist of PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh.
The National Association of Realtors’ data are due at 10 a.m. in Washington. Economists’ estimates range from 4.5 million to 4.75 million.
Existing-home sales, tabulated when a contract closes, climbed to 4.26 million last year, from 4.19 million in 2010. Demand peaked at 7.1 million in 2005 during the housing boom. In 2008, sales totaled 4.1 million, the least since 1995.