WASHINGTON –- Spurred by lower mortgage rates, sales of new U.S. homes rocketed to a record rate and existing U.S. homes rose to their second-highest rate on record in March, according to separate reports released by the U.S. Commerce Department and National Association of Realtors (NAR).

According to the Commerce Department, the number of new single-family homes sold in March rose 4.2% to an annual rate of 1.021 million units, up from a revised rate of 980,000 in February, suggesting the housing market is holding up well despite the overall U.S. economic slowdown.

The March new home figure far outstripped analysts' expectations of a rise of 910,000. The previous record was set in December last year when sales of homes rose to an annual rate of 1.007 million.

The NAR said U.S. existing homes sales in March rose 4.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.44 million units, the second highest rate on record. The all-time record of 5.45 million units was set in June 1999.

The existing sales rate for February was revised slightly upward to 5.19 million units from a previously reported 5.18 million. The March reading was well above Wall Street expectations of 5.13 million units.