John Bazemore, File, Associated Press
FILE - This Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, file photo shows an existing home for sale in Roswell, Ga. On Wednesday, April 20, 2016, the National Association of Realtors reports on sales of existing homes in March.

WASHINGTON — U.S. home sales recovered in March after a February slump, kicking off a solid start to the spring buying season with strong gains in the Northeast and Midwest.

The National Association of Realtors says sales of existing homes rose 5.1 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.33 million. The increase follows a steep 7.3 percent decline in February sales to 5.07 million, possibly reflecting the volatility in the stock market.

Sales climbed even though fewer properties are coming onto the market. The number of listings has fallen 1.5 percent over the past 12 months, pushing up prices for buyers.

The median home sales price was $222,700 in March, a 5.7 percent annual increase from a year ago.