Existing Home Sales Decline

By: AP
By: AP

WASHINGTON - Sales of existing homes fell in March as a severe slump in housing showed no signs of abating. The median price of a home fell compared with the price a year ago.

The National Association of Realtors said sales of existing single-family homes and condominiums dropped by 2 percent in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.93 million units.

The median price of a home sold last month was $200,700, a decline of 7.7 percent from the median price a year ago. That was the second-biggest year-over-year price decline following a record 8.4 percent drop in February. The records go back to 1999.

It marked the seventh consecutive year-over-year drop in prices, although the March sales price was up slightly from a February median price of $195,600. Economists prefer to compare the prices on a year-over-year basis because, unlike sales, the monthly prices are not adjusted for normal seasonal variations.

The March sales decline, which was in line with expectations, followed a 2.9 percent increase in sales in February. The February rise, which followed six straight monthly declines, had raised hopes that the steep housing correction could be hitting bottom.

However, many private analysts said they do not expect a rebound for a number of months, given the problems weighing on housing from a severe glut of unsold homes to tighter credit standards for prospective buyers and a rising tide of mortgage foreclosures.

Sales were down 19.3 percent compared with a year ago, reflecting the depth of the housing bust, which is coming after sales set records for five consecutive years.

For March, sales were down 6.5 percent in the Midwest and 3.5 percent in the South but increased by 2.2 percent in the Northeast and 2.2 percent in the West.

The Northeast was the country's only region to experience a rise in median prices, which were up 4.6 percent compared with a year ago. Prices were down in all other regions of the country, dropping by 14.7 percent in the West, 7.1 percent in the South and 5.3 percent in the Midwest.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors, said he expected sales would begin to show improvements in the second half of this year, helped by an improved availability of mortgage-backed insurance from the Federal Housing Administration and higher limits for jumbo mortgages, loans that are critically important in high-priced areas of the country such as California.

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