With first-time buyers continuing to influence the housing market, the National Association of Realtors released a report on Wednesday showing that existing home sales in the month of April increased by slightly more than economists had been expecting.

The report showed that existing home sales rose 2.9 percent to an annual rate of 4.68 million units in April from a downwardly revised rate of 4.55 million units in March. Despite the monthly increase, existing home sales were down 3.5 percent year-over-year.

Economists had expected sales to rise to a 4.66 million unit rate from the 4.57 million unit rate originally reported for the previous month.

While NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said first-time buyers continue to influence the market, he noted that there is also a seasonal rise of repeat buyers.

However, Yun added, Most of the sales are taking place in lower price ranges and activity is beginning to pick up in the midprice ranges, but high-end home sales remain sluggish.

The report also showed that the national median existing-home price in April was $170,200, which represents a 15.4 percent decrease compared to the same month a year ago. NAR noted that distressed properties continue to downwardly distort the median price.

While the pace of existing home sales increased compared to the previous month, total housing inventories at the end of April represented a 10.2-month supply compared with a 9.6-month supply in March.

Nonetheless, Yun noted, The gain in inventory is largely seasonal from sellers entering the spring market.

Even with the rise, inventory over the past few months has remained consistently lower in comparison with a year earlier, he added.

The monthly increase in existing home sales was due in part to an 11.6 percent increase in sales in the Northeast. While sales in the West and the South also rose 3.5 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively, sales in the Midwest fell 2.0 percent.

Earlier in the day, the Mortgage Bankers Association released a report showing that its index of mortgage loan application volume fell 14.2 percent in the week ended May 22.

The drop in mortgage application volume was largely due to a 18.9 percent decrease in refinance activity, which more than offset a 1.0 percent increase in purchase applications.