WASHINGTON -- Favorable housing affordability conditions, strong underlying demand, the improving economy, and unusually good weather encouraged home buyers to get into the market and drive total state existing-home sales to a new record in the first quarter of 2002.

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia posted increases from a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The group's latest report on sales of previously owned single-family homes, condominiums and co-operatives showed that total sales rose by double-digit rates in 26 states in the first quarter of this year compared to the same quarter in 2001.

Only three states reported a decline in the annual rate of sales activity from a year ago, while one state was unchanged.

Nationwide, the seasonally adjusted annual rate of total existing home sales reached a record of 6.54 million units in the first quarter, up 9.3 percent from the previous record of 6.11 million units in the first quarter of 2001.

The strongest year-to-year increase was in Mississippi, where the first quarter resale pace jumped 29.4 percent compared with the first quarter of 2001. Oklahoma rose 28.4 percent from a year ago, while New Mexico posted the third highest increase, up 27.7 percent from last year's first quarter rate.

Regionally, the West experienced the highest increase with an annual resale rate of 1.82 million units during the first quarter of 2002, up 10.8 percent compared to the same quarter a year ago. After New Mexico, the next highest increase in the region was in California, where existing-home sales rose 19.6 percent from a year ago.