The median price of previously owned homes is expected to fall 5.1 percent this year, to $188,500, with sales rising 1 percent compared to 2008, according to the latest National Association of Realtors forecast.

The sales projection represents a slight bump up from a 0.3 percent rise in an earlier forecast, while the annual price decline is expected to be steeper than the 4.9 percent drop in the previous forecast.

The national Realtor trade group expects the median price of resale homes to rise 4.1 percent in 2010, with sales climbing 5.8 percent that year.

New single-family home sales, meanwhile, are expected to plummet 41.1 percent this year (compared with a projection last month of 39.6 percent) but to rise rapidly in 2010 — up 36.1 percent. The forecast anticipates that the median new-home price will fall 4.3 percent this year before rising 5 percent in 2010.

NAR expects the U.S. unemployment rate to hit 9.2 percent this year and to rise to 9.6 percent next year, with real gross domestic product dipping 2.5 percent for the year before rising 1.5 percent in 2010.

Also today, NAR reported that its index gauging pending sales of resale homes, based on contracts signed in February, rose 2.1 percent compared to January but was down 1.4 percent compared to February 2008.

Regionally, the Pending Home Sales Index dropped about 13.5 percent in the West from January to February while rising in the three other U.S. regions: 14.5 percent in the Midwest, 10.6 percent in the Northeast and 4.4 percent in the South.

The index was down 11.2 percent in the Northeast, 1.7 percent in the West, and 0.1 percent in the South year-over-year in February while rising 3.4 percent in the Midwest.

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