U.S. homebuilders opened the spring buying season in March at a slower pace than last year.
The Commerce Department says builders began construction at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 926,000 homes last month, a 2.5 percent decline from the pace in March 2014.
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March housing starts did rise 2 percent from February's rate of 908,000 homes, as construction recovered in the Northeast and Midwest markets hammered by winter storms. But the pace of construction slipped in March for the South and West.
Steady job growth, low mortgage rates and cheaper gasoline have given consumers more flexibility. But the improved economy has yet to significantly boost sales and construction.
Approved building permits fell from February, sliding 2.9 percent in March to an annual rate of 1.04 million.