Existing home sales fell in March as the economy's housing sector struggle continues.

Existing home sales dropped 2.6 percent nationally in March. Some suggest the mild winter and low rates brought buyers out earlier in the year than usual. The first three months of 2012 made up the best winter for sales in five years. The increase offers some encouragement ahead of the spring-buying season. Still, sales remain far below the 6 million per year that economists equate with healthy markets.

Distressed sales...foreclosures and the like... comprised 29 percent of the March sales. One positive, though, first time home buyers accounted for one out of every three sales. The supply of homes on the market fell 1.3 percent last month to 2.37 million, which could help drive up prices further in the coming months.

Walter Molony of the National Association of Realtors says he sees more good news. Molony says they expect housing to be notably better this year. He suggests home sales could be up in the vicinity of nine percent higher during 2012.

There have been other signs in recent months that the housing market is slowly improving. Builders are laying plans to construct more homes in 2012 than at any other point in the past 3 1/2 years. More jobs and a better outlook among buyers could also make 2012 the first year since 2008 that construction adds to the U.S. economy.

Mortgage rates are close to record lows, and that should help. Here in the Northeast, existing home sales last month were down 1.7 percent.