WASHINGTON — Strong demand by first-time and “trade-up” homebuyers, coupled with affordable prices, drove existing-home sales to a record in the first quarter, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday.

For the nation as a whole, resales increased 13.9% over the first quarter of 2000, to an annual rate of 6.79 million units. Resales rose in 31 states and the District of Columbia, the trade group said.

In addition, the group’s latest report on sales of previously owned single-family homes, condominiums, and co-operatives found that total sales rose by double-digit rates in 13 states in the first quarter.

The Realtors’ state resale report shows strong consumer confidence in housing as an investment, combined with continued favorable affordability conditions, Richard A. Mendenhall, president of the trade group, said in a statement. Current market conditions make this housing market one that appeals to both sellers and buyers, he added.

“We expect that the real estate market will maintain its current good health throughout the next quarter of the year as mortgage interest rates are anticipated to hold fairly steady during that time period,” Mr. Mendenhall said in a statement.

The strong resale activity in the first quarter of this year validates our predictions that we expect 2001 to be another strong year for existing- home sales, said David Lereah, the association’s chief economist.

In Delaware the resale pace rose 27%, the biggest year-to-year increase by state. Regionally, the South experienced the highest increase in the first quarter, recording a rate of 2.37 million units, up 3.8% from a year earlier.

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