Sales of previously owned U.S. homes rose more than expected in March, a trade group said on Wednesday, raising cautious optimism a recovery may be in sight for the housing market.

The National Association of Realtors said sales rose 3.7 percent month over month to an annual rate of 5.10 million units after an upwardly revised 4.92 million unit pace in February.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected sales to rise 2.5 percent to a 5.0 million-unit pace from the previously reported 4.88 million unit rate. Sales have now risen in six of the past eight months.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by James Dalgleish)