By Jon Wertheim The Washington PostHome sales are off to a slow start in the housing market.
But they are starting to pick up.
A survey released Wednesday showed a 2.5% gain in the number of homes sold in the first quarter.
The surge was driven by buyers looking for a bigger home, as prices were down nearly 3% from a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors.
And some are hoping the economy improves.
“There are people who just want a big house,” said Richard Hargrove, chief economist at Realtor.com.
“It is not for everybody.”
For many Americans, the real estate market is more than a decade old, with a housing bubble bursting in 2007 that drove prices into the stratosphere.
But some analysts say the economic downturn is helping revive the market, particularly in the suburbs and in more rural areas.
For the past few years, there have been fewer home sales, with many people living paycheck to paycheck.
And sales have been down in some areas for years.
But the number was up in April, when there were nearly 4.2 million home sales in the country.
Economists said the increase in home sales reflects an easing of lending restrictions.
The number of foreclosures, meanwhile, was up, with the number on the national foreclosure list at 5.2.
The foreclosure rate rose to 9.9% in April from 8.4% in March, according the National Credit Union Administration.
In the second quarter, mortgage rates fell to 5.4%, from 5.6% in the third quarter.
In a speech on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said he was pleased with the economy, but stressed the need to work on affordability.
In many areas, mortgage payments have fallen, and the cost of a mortgage has also been dropping, he said.
The economy is still growing at about a 3% rate, he noted.
Lew said the mortgage market was “very, very robust.”
The number of outstanding mortgages rose to $1.2 trillion in April after a decrease in March.
The median mortgage amount in April was $250,000, up from $248,000 in March and $241,000 a year earlier.
Housing is still an expensive, but not a prohibitive, expense for many households.
The median home price in April reached $1,079,000.
Houses are now selling at an average price of $1 million, up 15% from the first half of this year.