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Housing sales drop, despite approaching tax credit deadline

Recent data from the National Association of Realtors may further indicate that a slow housing recovery is on the way.

Existing-home sales fell by 0.6 percent on a seasonally-adjusted basis from January to February, according to the report. NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said that severe winter weather that month may have prevented potential homebuyers from viewing property and closing on sales.

National median existing-home prices fell by $165,100 last month. Distressed homes, which accounted for 35 percent of sales, may have contributed to this drop.

The association's existing-home sales index measures the number of completed sales on condominiums, single-family houses, townhouses and co-ops during a given time period. There were 5.02 million such units closed on in February, compared to January's 5.05 million. Last month's figures are still 7 percent higher than those experienced in February of last year.

"Although sales have been higher than year-ago levels for eight straight months and home prices are much more stable compared to the past few years, the housing recovery is fragile at the moment," Yun said.

The largest slips in home sales were seen in the West and South. The Northeast reported the highest median price as well as a 2.4 percent increase in existing-home sales. The Midwest also experienced a 2.8 percent growth in February, with 1.11 million sales.

The recovery's true test will come when the federal tax credit for homebuyers expires in April, according to the report. The program offers up to $8,000 for first-time homebuyers and up to $6,500 for repeat purchasers. Originally set to expire in the fall, the credit is available for deals signed by April 30 and closed by June 30.

With little time left to take advantage of the tax credit, homebuyers may start to feel the urgency of acting, according to NAR president Vicki Cox Golder. Meeting with a realtor as soon as possible can help buyers obtain the kind of loan and property they desire before the credit's deadline.

Favorable interest rates may also encourage consumers to look into real estate.

Consumers seeking a mortgage loan should first consider their credit score. Those with strong scores may be able to obtain the most favorable interest rates on loans, while consumers with lowers scores may need make a larger down payment in order to obtain a mortgage with a low interest rate.