Sales of existing homes edged up 2.9 percent from March to April, but inventory swelled by 8.8 percent as sellers entered the spring market, the National Association of Realtors said today.

The inventory of existing homes hit 3.97 million, a 10.2-month supply at the current pace of sales, up from 9.6 months in March, NAR said.

At an annual rate of 4.68 million units, existing-home sales were down 3.5 percent from a year ago, with most of the sales taking place in lower price ranges. Distressed properties accounted for 45 percent of all sales, helping push the median home price down 15.4 percent from a year ago, to $170,200, NAR reported.

In a separate report, the latest numbers from Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller showed a record 19.1 percent year-over-year decline in a national home-price index during the first quarter — the largest in data going back 21 years.

The S&P Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which covers all nine U.S. census divisions, showed average home prices down 32.2 percent from their peak in the second quarter of 2006, at levels comparable to the end of 2002.

An index tracking prices in 10 cities was down 18.6 percent, and the S&P Case-Shiller 20-City Composite was down 18.7 percent from a year ago — both slight improvements from February.

Looking back a year, the three worst-performing metropolitan statistical areas were Phoenix (down 36 percent), Las Vegas (down 31.2 percent), and San Francisco (down 30.1 percent). The best-performing markets were Denver (down 5.5 percent), Dallas (down 5.6 percent), and Boston (down 8 percent).

Another house-price index based on purchase mortgages acquired by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac showed a 7.1 percent year-over-year decline in home prices during the first quarter. The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s purchase-only house- price index showed increases in January and February offset by a decrease in March.

The 0.5 percent decline from the fourth quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2009 was an improvement from the 3.3 percent quarter-to-quarter decline seen in the last three months of 2008.

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