The sales rate for new single-family homes dropped for the fifth straight month in March, hitting the lowest level since October 1991, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development reported today.

Since reaching a record seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 1.39 million in July 2005, the rate has plummeted 62.1 percent.

This rate — a projection of a monthly sales total over a 12-month period, adjusted to account for seasonal variations in sales activity — dropped to 526,000 in March.

The March rate is down about 36.6 percent compared to the rate for the same month last year, and dropped about 8.5 percent compared to the February rate.

The supply of homes for sale at the March sales rate reached 11 months, with 468,000 homes for sale at the end of March.

It was the largest supply of new homes since September 1981, when the supply reached 11.3 months.

That is despite 12 consecutive monthly declines in the volume of homes for sale.

In March, the months’ supply of new-homes for sale rose about 32.5 percent compared to the same month last year.

The median sales price of new homes dropped to $227,000 in March, down 13.3 percent compared to March 2007. And the average price of new homes dropped 13.3 percent from March 2007 to March 2008.

Compared to February 2008, the March median price fell 6.8 percent and the March average price was down 3.5 percent.

Regionally, new-home sales fell about 64.6 percent in the Northeast, 50 percent in the Midwest, 39.3 percent in the West and 25.9 percent in the South year-over-year in March.

Earlier this week, the National Association of Realtors trade group reported that the seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales for resale homes dropped 19.3 percent in March compared to the same month last year, while the median resale home price dropped 7.7 percent.

Regionally, the median price last month dropped 14.7 percent in the West, fell 7.1 percent in the South, dropped 5.3 percent in the Midwest and rose 4.6 percent in the Northeast year-over-year.

The rate of resale home sales dropped 18.8 percent in the Northeast, 22.3 percent in the West, 20 percent in the South and 15.9 percent in the Midwest in March compared to March 2007, NAR reported.

The Census Bureau and HUD will release new residential sales data for April 2008 at 10 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, May 27.

The agencies noted that new-home sales statistics are estimated from sample surveys and are subject to sampling variability and nonsampling error including bias and variance from response, nonreporting, and under-coverage.

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.

Preliminary sales data is subject to revision, and the preliminary seasonally adjusted estimate of total sales is revised about 4 percent, on average, the agencies noted.


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