Purchases of new homes in the U.S. unexpectedly declined in March for a third month, reflecting the weakest pace of demand in the West since July 2014.

Sales of new single-family houses in March 2016 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 511,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 1.5 percent below the revised February rate of 519,000, but is 5.4 percent above the March 2015 estimate of 485,000.

Purchases rose in two regions last month, indicating uneven demand at the start of the busiest time of the year for builders and real-estate agents. While new construction has been showing limited upside, cheap borrowing costs and solid hiring will help ensure residential real estate continues to expand.

Sales in the West slumped 23.6 percent in March after surging 21.7 percent the previous month. In the South, purchases climbed 5 percent to a 314,000 pace in March, the strongest in 13 months. Sales in the Midwest advanced 18.5 percent, the first gain in three months, and were unchanged in the Northeast.

The median sales price decreased 1.8 percent from March 2015 to $288,000.

There were 246,000 new houses on the market at the end of March, the most since September 2009. The supply of homes at the current sales rate rose to 5.8 months, the highest since September, from 5.6 months in the prior period.