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Incentives spur spike in home sales, tax credits expire this month

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By Alan Zibel

WASHINGTON (AP) — Home sales rose in March, reversing three months of declines, as government incentives drew in buyers and kicked off what's expected to be a strong spring selling season.

Sales of previously occupied homes rose 6.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million last month, the highest level since December, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. February's sales figures were revised downward slightly to 5.01 million.

"The spring selling season will be a success and probably the most active we're seen in years," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group.

Sales are now up 18 percent from their low in early 2009, but are still down 26 percent from their peak in fall 2005. March's results had been expected to rise about 5 percent to 5.28 million, according to economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

The results show the housing market is stabilizing after a devastating bust. But the true test will be whether the market can stand on its own after federal tax credits expire at the end of this month.

Sales rose in every region, surging more than 7 percent in the Midwest and South, 6.6 percent in the West and 6 percent in the Northeast.

"It's a very broad-based recovery," said Lawrence Yun, the Realtors' chief economist.


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