The good news: after declining for three months, existing home sales rose in March. The bad news: the home buyer credit has had a much weaker influence this spring than it did last fall when it was facing expiration.
Existing home sales were an annualized 5.35 million in March on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). That's up by 340,000 from February, an increase of 6.8%. NAR's chief economist Lawrence Yun says that the rise is mostly due to the home buyer credit, set to expire at the end of April. It hadn't done much over the past few months, however, as sales had been declining. But with consumers anticipating the credit's expiration, buying ramped up.
Here's a chart showing home sales since September 2008:
As you can see, March saw a healthy increase, but home sales are still lagging below December's level of 5.44 million.
This begins to show that the credit, while likely increasing home sales, wasn't nearly as successful this time around as it was last fall. At that time, it was set to expire in November. Interestingly, a month prior -- in October -- there was also an identical 6.8% month-over-month rise in home sales. Yet, the activity leading up to October was much more impressive. The following chart demonstrates this point: