Homebuyers in the Sunshine State were not concerned with increasing interest rates in 1994, judging by the housing market's brisk pace.

More than 170,000 new and existing homes were sold in Florida's major metropolitan areas, an increase of 8.1% over 1993, according to TRW REDI Property Data, a real estate information company.

Florida has been a major target of expansion-minded lenders recently, largely because of the strong housing market.

The West Palm Beach area had the largest increase, 11.1%, followed by Miami-Fort Lauderdale at 10.5%.

The average 30-year fixed rate loan offered in Florida was 9.3%, about 2% above the national average for 1994. "The positive effects of a buoyant economy in the state have outweighed the impact of higher mortgage costs," said Nima Nattagh, market analyst at TRW.

New-home sales were particularly strong, with more than 38,024 new single-family houses and condominiums sold last year in the survey area, an 18.4% increase from the 1993 level.

More than one-fifth of all residential sales were of new homes, according to TRW. New-home sales increased by about 35% in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area and 11.9% in Palm Beach County. Pinellas County (St. Petersburg) had the highest increase in new home sales, 64.4%.

Mr. Nattagh said growth is strongest in these areas because they are the economic hub of the state.

States with weaker economies and those slow to recover from the recession did not have housing sales as strong as those in economically sound Florida.

California, normally a strong housing market, showed its first gain in home sales since 1989 - 10.9%. Home sales had declined 6% in 1992 and 2% in 1993. During those years, Florida sales increased 20.4% and 17.3%, respectively.

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