• Low inventory at time of rising demand pushes values higher
  • Prices for single-family houses rose 5.6% from a year earlier

U.S. home prices rose 0.4 percent in February from the prior month, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, as job growth fueled demand for a scant supply of listings.

The gain matched the median estimate of 19 economists, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Prices climbed 5.6 percent from a year earlier, the agency said Thursday in a report from Washington.

Buyers, eager to take advantage of borrowing costs near record lows, are facing fierce competition for the few properties on the market. There were 1.98 million houses for sale at the end of March, down 1.5 percent from the same month last year, the National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday.

“You’ve got increasing numbers of buyers coming up against a stock of existing homes that’s essentially unchanged since the beginning of 2012,” said Matthew Pointon, U.S. economist for Capital Economics Ltd. “That leads to high prices because it becomes a sellers’ market.”

The FHFA index measures transactions for single-family properties financed with mortgages owned or securitized by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It doesn’t provide specific prices. The median price of an existing single-family home in the U.S. was $213,600 in February, according to the Realtors group. It climbed to $224,300 last month.

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