The action in the market for existing homes remained concentrated in the low-end foreclosure segment in April, driving sales up 2.9% from March levels to a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.68 million units, the National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday. The rate was generally in line with Wall Street expectations of an annual rate between 4.65 and 4.7 million units but was still 3.5% below the pace in April of last year.

Despite the sales increase, however, inventory of single-family, coops and condominiums increased 8.8% to 3.97 million, a 10.2.-month supply, up from 9.6-months in March as homeowners looking to sell put properties on the market during the traditionally more active spring selling season. Moreover, the national median price fell 15.4% from April, 2008 to $170,200. Distressed properties accounted for 45% of all sales in April.

"Most of the sales are taking place in lower price ranges, and activity is beginning to pickup in the mid-price ranges, but high-end home sales remain sluggish," said Lawrence Yun, the NAR's chief economist. "Because foreclosed properties will likely be released into the market over the rest of year, it is critical that distressed homes be quickly cleared from the market."

First-time buyers declined to 40% of transactions during the month, which the NAR said implied that more repeat buyers are entering during the spring selling season. It also said the number of buyers looking at homes has increased 14 percentage points from a year ago. "This is consistent with our forecast for home sales in the latter part of the year to be 10% to 20% higher than the second half of 2008," said Yun.

Single-family sales were up 2.5% to a rate of 4.18 million, 2.8% below March 2008. The median existing single-family home price was down 14.9% from April 2008 to $169,800. Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 6.4% to a rate of 500,000 units, down 9.4% from last year, with the median price down 18.5% to $173,900.

Regionally, sales in the Northeast jumped 11.6% to an annual rate of 770,000, still 10.5% below April 2008, with the median price off 9.6% to $237,400. The Midwest declined 2% to a rate of 1 million, 9.9% lower than a year ago, and the median price was down 11.7% to $138,800. The South was up 1.8% to 1.74 million, 8.9% below April 2008, with the median price down 12.8% to $148,000. The West was up 3.5% to 1.17 million, up 19.4% from last year but at a median price that was down 21.8% to $222,600.