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February Existing Home Sales Muted: West Is The Best

Existing home sales in the West and South posted the highest gains in February while sales in much of the rest of the U.S. remained soft or down, the National Association of Realtors reported Thursday.

But home prices continued to show "solid growth" in most of the country due to limited inventory, with the median price 9.1% above last February to $189,000, the NAR said.

Existing-home sales of all housing types fell 0.4% from January and 7.1% from a year earlier to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.6 million.

February's pace was the lowest since July 2012, the NAR said. Its chief economist Lawrence Yun partly blamed "unusual weather disruptions across much of the country.

"Some transactions are simply being delayed, so there should be some improvement in the months ahead," he stated. An expected pickup in job creation should cause home sales to trend up modestly the rest of the year, he added.

Sales were strongest in the West, where existing-home sales rose 5.9% in February from January, though down 10.1% from the level a year earlier. The median price jumped 18% from the prior year.

The South saw existing-home sales rise 1.5% in February, but were 0.5% below levels of the year prior. The median price in the South was up 8.3% from a year ago to $163,400.

Both the Northeast and Midwest showed sales declines in the month, but higher prices. Sales in the Northeast fell the sharpest, down 11.3% for the month and 12.7% below the level a year earlier. The median price in the region was up 1.5% from a year ago to $237,800.

Sales in the Midwest fell 3.8% in February and were 12.3% below last year's level. The median price rose 8.6% from last year to $140,000.

In another housing report, released Wednesday, real estate website Zillow (Z)said the strongest region for sellers is on the West Coast, where six of the top 10 sellers' markets are located. Topping the list at No. 1 and No. 2: San Jose, Calif., and San Francisco.

Relatively strong job growth, which is spurring demand, and limited supply are causing "rapid home value appreciation" on the West Coast, Zillow said.

"In the East, housing markets are appreciating a bit more slowly, and homes are staying on the market longer, which helps give buyers the upper hand," Zillow's chief economist Stan Humphries said in Wednesday's release.

Zillow's Home Value Index rose 5.6% in February from a year earlier to $169,200. Zillow expects home values to rise another 3% through next February.

Brokerage giant Realogy Holdings (RLGY) was little changed in morning trading in the stock market today. Re/Max Holdings (RMAX) was up around 1%.