Sales of new homes in the United States increased for the second consecutive month in April, crawling out of a record bottom earlier this year, official data showed Tuesday. The Commerce Department reported that sales rose to an annual rate of 323,000, an increase of 7.3 percent from March. The reading was solidly stronger than the average analyst estimate of an annual rate of 300,000 homes. New-home sales had fallen in February to a rate of 278,000, hitting an all-time low for the data series started in 1963. The better-than-expected improvement in April signals a slight pickup in the depressed construction sector. However, in terms of real estate sales, it represents only a small portion of the US housing market. Sales of previously owned homes unexpectedly fell in April, by 0.8 percent from March, to an annual rate of 5.05 million, the National Association of Realtors said last week. Despite mortgage rates at historic lows and rock-bottom home prices in the depressed housing market, would-be homebuyers face high unemployment and a weak economic recovery. Sales of new homes in April were down 23.1 percent from April 2010, while existing-home sales had fallen 12.9 percent from the year-ago period, when the market was boosted by the government's temporary homebuyer tax credit program.