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House with   sold   sign in front yard
Ariel Skelley—Getty Images

U.S. home resales rose more than expected in April, suggesting the economy continues to gather pace during the second quarter.

The National Association of Realtors said on Friday existing home sales increased 1.7% to an annual rate of 5.45 million units.

March's sales pace was revised slightly higher to 5.36 million units from the previously reported 5.33 million units.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast home resales rising to a 5.40 million-unit pace last month. Sales were up 6.0% from a year ago.

However, there were regional variations. Home sales surged in the Midwest by 12.1% last month and also rose in the Northeast while the South and West lost steam.

The housing sector has been relatively buoyant, helped by an economy that is nearing full employment.

U.S. stocks added to gains after the report, and homebuilder stocks outperformed the broader market. D.R. Horton rose 1.9% while shares of Lennar were up 1.6%.

The dollar rose to more than three-week highs against the yen and Treasury yields held modest increases.

Earlier this week U.S. housing starts also increased more than expected in April as builders ramped up the construction of single- and multi-family homes.

The number of unsold homes on the market rose 9.2% to 2.14 million in April from March, but was down 3.6% compared to a year ago.

"Housing shortage is still present," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist.

At April's sales pace, it would take 4.7 months to clear the stock of homes on the market, up from 4.4 months in March. A six-month supply is viewed as a healthy balance between supply and demand.

The share of first-time homebuyers rose to 32% from 30% last month and a year ago.

Nationwide, the median home price stood at $232,500. That was an increase of 6.3% from one year ago.

It was the 50th consecutive month house prices rose on a year-on-year basis, Yun added.