New home sales up unexpectedly in April

New home sales in the United States increased 3.3 percent in April to an annual pace of 526,000 from a 509,000 rate in March, the U.S. Commerce Department announced May 27. Still, that number was down 42 percent from a year ago, the largest year-over-year drop in almost 27 years.

The increase in sales was the first since October, but it was revised down from the previous month, signaling that the housing slump has yet to reach bottom.

Also included in the report was the following: the median sales price of new houses sold in April 2008 was $246,100, down 4.2 percent from a year ago, and the seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of April was 456,000 -- the 12th straight monthly decline. The April sales pace put the supply of homes available for sale at 10.6 month's worth.

“The fact that new home sales are up slightly from a dismal beginning to the spring home buying season in March isn’t much to celebrate,” said Sandy Dunn, president of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Part of the reason for the muted attitude toward the numbers -- April’s sales pace of 526,000 units actually was equal to the previously reported sales pace in March, but the Commerce Department revised the March pace downwardly to 509,000 units. That new March figure is 11 percent below February’s reading.

In all, sales rose in three out of four regions in April. The Northeast posted a 41.7 percent gain that “erased” an equivalent decline in the previous month, while the Midwest and West recorded gains of 5.8 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively. The South, which is the nation’s largest housing market, the NAHB notes, posted a 2.4 percent decline.