The sales rate for new single-family homes equaled the lowest rate for that month since September 1996, and sales were down about 23.3 percent compared to the same month last year, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development reported today.

The supply of homes for sale in September was 8.3 months, which was the largest supply for that month since September 1990 when it stood at 8.4 months. The months’ supply is a projection of how long it would take to exhaust the inventory of for-sale homes at that month’s sales rate.

A supply of greater than six months is generally considered to indicate a buyer’s market. The supply reached nine months in August.

New homes spent a median 5.9 months for sale since completion in September, which was the highest level for that month since reaching 6.2 months in September 1992. That compares to a median 3.4 months for sale in September 2006.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate of single-family home sales was 770,000 in September, compared with a September 2006 estimate of 1 million. The rate is a projection of a monthly sales total over a 12-month period, adjusted to account for seasonal fluctuations in sales activity.

The median sales price of new houses sold in September 2007 was $238,000, up 4.99 percent compared to the September 2006 median price of $226,700. And the September average price dropped 2.77 percent to $288,000, compared to $296,200 for that month last year.

Regionally, the rate of new single-family homes for sale dropped about 28.9 percent in the South, 28.3 percent in the Midwest, 12.2 percent in the West and 8.1 percent in the Northeast in September compared to September 2007.

The agencies noted that statistics are estimated from sample surveys and are subject to variability and error including bias and variance from response, nonreporting and undercoverage.

Changes in seasonally adjusted statistics often show irregular movement, according to the report, and it can take five months to establish a trend for new houses sold. The new-home sales survey is primarily based on a sample of houses selected from building permits, and a sale is defined as a deposit taken or sales agreement signed.

The preliminary seasonally adjusted estimate of total sales is revised about 4 percent, the agencies reported.

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