Sales of new single-family homes rose 12% in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.43 million units, according to figures released Tuesday by the Commerce Department.The strong performance confounded housing economists who were anticipating a decline in March (compared with February sales) because of bad weather and rising mortgage rates. Instead, new-home sales surpassed the all-time high of 1.3 million units set back in October. Sales of both new and existing homes have set records in the past four years, but analysts are expecting demand to cool this year, in part because of rising rates. Rates began ticking up earlier this year but began to fall again about three weeks ago. Lenders, including Countrywide Home Loans, the nation's largest mortgage banker, have noticed a pickup in applications over the past few weeks. The Commerce Department can be found online at http://www.doc.gov.

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