03/21/2012 10:17 EDT | Updated 05/21/2012 05:12 EDT

US previously occupied homes dip in February, but winter sales best in 5 years

WASHINGTON - U.S. previously occupied home sales dipped last month but the sales pace for the winter was the best in five years.

The National Association of Realtors says home sales fell 0.9 per cent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million. That followed a revised 4.63 million sold in January — the highest level since May 2010.

The last three months have been the best for winter sales in five years. The progress is encouraging ahead of the spring buying season, although sales remain below the 6 million that economists equate with healthy markets.

First-time buyers, who are critical to a housing recovery, fell slightly to 32 per cent of all purchases, down from 33 per cent in January. In healthy markets, first-time buyers make up at least 40 per cent.