Existing home sales increased 5.1% in March from February, reaching a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.33 million, which represents an increase of 1.5% from March 2015, according to the latest data from the National Association of Realtors

NAR's existing home sales report showed monthly increases were highest in the Northeast (11.1%) and the Midwest (9.8%).

"Closings came back in force last month as a greater number of buyers – mostly in the Northeast and Midwest – overcame depressed inventory levels and steady price growth to close on a home," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist.

"Buyer demand remains sturdy in most areas this spring and the mid-priced market is doing quite well," Yun continued. "However, sales are softer both at the very low and very high ends of the market because of supply limitations and affordability pressures."

March sales represent a real rebound from February, which saw a 7.1% decline in existing home sales due to very limited inventory. At the end of March, total housing inventory increased 5.9% to 1.98 million existing homes available for sale, but that's still 1.5% lower than a year ago, when there were 2.01 million homes available.

According to NAR's report, unsold inventory is at a 4.5-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 4.4 months in February.

"The choppiness in sales activity so far this year is directly related to the unevenness in the rate of new listings coming onto the market to replace what is, for the most part, being sold rather quickly," Yun said.

Existing home sales prices were up 5.7% year-over-year in March, rising to $222,700. That's the 49th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

Other highlights from the report:

  • Existing-home sales in the South rose 2.7% with a median price at $194,400, up 4.6% from a year ago.
  • Existing-home sales in the West climbed 1.8% with a median price at $320,800, up 5.9% from March 2015.
  • Properties typically stayed on the market for 47 days in March, a decrease from 59 days in February and below the 52 days in March 2015. 
  • Short sales were on the market the longest at a median of 120 days in March, while foreclosures sold in 50 days and non-distressed homes took 46 days. 
  • Forty-two percent of homes sold in March were on the market for less than a month – the highest since July 2015 (43%).
  • The share of first-time buyers was 30% in March, unchanged both from February and a year ago. 
  • All-cash sales were 25% of transactions in March (unchanged from February) and are up from 24% a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 14% of homes in March. 
  • Distressed sales – foreclosures and short sales – fell to 8% in March, down from 10% both last month and a year ago. 

Read the full report here.