The projected annual rate of sales for resale homes fell 23.4 percent in January compared to the same month last year, and the median price was down 4.6 percent, the National Association of Realtors reported today.

The sales rate — a projection of a monthly total over a 12-month period, adjusted to account for seasonal fluctuations in sales activity — hit its lowest level since the association began tracking combined sales of previously owned condos and single-family homes in 1999.

In January, the sales rate for single-family resale homes was 4.34 million, up from 4.32 million in December but 22.4 percent below the January 2007 rate. The December 2007 sales rate single-family resale homes was the lowest since 4.18 million in January 1998.

The combined sales rate for condo and single-family resale homes dropped for the sixth consecutive month in January. The for-sale inventory of resale homes climbed to a supply of 10.3 months in January, which suggests it would take that long to exhaust the January supply of for-sale homes based on that month’s pace of sales. The January inventory was up 53.7 percent compared to a supply of 6.7 months in January 2007.

NAR reported that the median price for all resale home types was $201,100 in January, down from $210,900 in January 2007 and $207,000 in December 2007.

The median price for single-family resale homes was $198,700 in January, down 5.1 percent compared to January 2007; and the median price for resale condos and co-ops was $220,400, down from $222,600 in January 2007 and $220,400 in December 2007.

Regionally, the sales rate for all types of resale homes dropped 27.3 percent in the West, 26.2 percent in the Northeast, 21.8 percent in the South and 20.8 percent in the Midwest in January 2008 compared to January 2007.

And the median sales price for all resale homes dropped 6.7 percent in the West, 5.9 percent in the South, and 4 percent in the Midwest while rising 3.1 percent in the Northeast in January compared to January 2007.

Sales of previously owned homes have fallen for the past two years after peaking at 7.08 million in 2005, NAR reported. Sales of resale homes dropped 8.5 percent for the full year in 2006 compared to the previous year, and fell another 12.8 percent in 2007.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported last month that sales of new single-family homes dropped 26.4 percent in 2007 compared to 2006 — the steepest drop since 1963, the first year that the agency began tracking the sales. An estimated 774,000 new homes were sold in 2007.

And the median sales price of new homes was $219,200 in December 2007, down 10.4 percent compared to December 2006.

Richard Gaylord, NAR president, said in a statement that he expects that the pending higher limits for conventional loans will help some buyers in high-cost markets. “Once buyers have greater access to higher loan limits, it will take a few months for increased shopping activity to translate into higher sales,” he stated.

NAR will release existing-home sales statistics for February on March 24, and the group’s next annual forecast and pending home sales report is scheduled for release on March 6.

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