WASHINGTON — Home sales will continue at “an exceptionally strong pace” for the rest of the year, despite a recent slowdown, the National Association of Realtors predicts.

David Lereah, the Realtors’ chief economist, said Wednesday that existing-home sales will rise 0.9% this year, to 5.16 million units, the second-highest level on record. He added that new-home sales will increase 3.1%, to 904,000 units, a record.

“It appears home sales may have peaked during the first quarter and are now settling down to a more sustainable pace,” he said in a release. “Even so, we expect … activity to remain above year-ago levels.” The Realtors forecast that housing starts will rise 2.5%, to 1.61 million units.

Mr. Lereah also said the association expects the 30-year fixed rate to hover at 7.2% to 7.3% for the rest of the year. Even with a recent upturn in fixed rates, they are still more than a full percentage point lower than a year ago, which is boosting overall home sales, he said.

The association forecast that the national median existing-home price for 2001 will be $145,500, an increase of 4.7%, while the typical new-home price will be $174,800, up 3.5%.

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