US sales of previously occupied homes up in April

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans bought more previously owned homes in April, a hopeful sign that the weak housing market is gradually improving.

The National Association of Realtors says home sales rose 3.4 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million.

That brings home sales back near the pace in January and February – which was the best winter for sales in five years. Still, sales are well below the nearly 6 million per year that economists equate with healthy markets.

A mild winter encouraged some people to buy homes earlier. That drove up sales in January and February, while making March weaker.

The median price for homes sold in April rose to $177,400, up 10.1 percent from a year ago.

Modest increases in home sales are the latest sign that the market could be starting to turn around nearly five years after the housing bubble burst.

The sales pace in January was the highest since May 2010 – when a popular home-buying tax credit expired. Builders are more confident and are starting to builder more homes. Mortgage rates have never been cheaper. And the job market is improving, which has made more people open to buying a home.

Employers have added 1 million jobs in the past five months. And unemployment has dropped a full percentage point since August, from 9.1 percent to 8.1 percent in April.

Still, many would-be buyers are having difficulty qualifying for home loans or can’t afford the larger down payments being required by banks.