The rate of existing-home sales fell 11.3 percent and the median price dropped 0.3 percent in March compared to the same month last year, the National Association of Realtors reported today.

Existing-home sales — including single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums — fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.12 million in March, down 8.4 percent compared to February.

This was the largest month-over-month decline since January 1989, when home sales fell 12.6 percent compared to the prior month. But the Realtor group notes that year-over-year change is more statistically meaningful than month-to-month comparisons.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate is a projection of a monthly sales total over a 12-month period, adjusted to account for seasonal variations in sales activity.

“Unusually bad winter weather” and “a decrease in subprime lending volume” may have contributed to the slowing sales volume, the Realtor trade group reported. The rate of existing-home sales had increased for three straight months before the March drop-off.

“For the last couple months we’ve been expecting a weather ‘hit’ on home sales finalized in March,” said David Lereah, NAR’s chief economist, in a statement. “We also may be seeing some losses as a result of the subprime fallout.

“It’s too early to measure a significant impact from tighter lending standards, which should moderately dampen activity, but we’re still looking for existing-home sales to gradually improve during the last half of 2007.”

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $217,000 in March, compared with $217,600 in March 2006. The median is a typical market price where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less.

This percentage change reflects a shift in the composition of sales “from high-cost markets to moderately priced areas,” the group reported.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 6.16 percent in March, down from 6.29 percent in February and 6.32 percent in March 2006.

Total housing inventory levels fell 1.6 percent at the end of March to 3.75 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 7.3-month supply at the current sales pace, up from a 6.8-month supply in February.

The rate of single-family home sales dropped 9.5 percent to 5.32 million in March from 5.88 million in February, and was 11.9 percent below the March 2006 rate, according to the report. The median existing single-family home price was $215,300 in March, down 0.9 percent compared to March 2006.

The rate of existing-condo and co-op sales, at 800,000 units in March, dropped 6.7 percent compared to the same month last year while it was unchanged compared to February 2007. The median existing condo price was $228,200 in March, up 3.2 percent from March 2006.

Regionally, existing-home sales dropped 9.7 percent in the South compared to March 2006. The median price in the South, at $180,700, was up 0.4 percent compared to March 2006.

Existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 5.1 percent and the median price, at $268,600, dropped 0.7 percent in March compared to the same month last year.

Existing-home sales in the West dropped 16.7 percent in March compared to March 2006 while the median price, at $330,600, fell 2.9 percent.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest dropped 13.7 percent while the median price, at $160,400, dropped 0.2 percent in March compared to the same month last year.

Existing-home sales include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, and are based on transaction closings. Existing-home sales generally account for about 85 percent of total home sales, and the Realtor statistics are based on about 40 percent of multiple listing service data each month.

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