Sales of newly built single-family homes fell 0.6 percent from April to May as prices rebounded from recent lows, and were down 32.8 percent from a year ago, the U.S. Census Bureau said today.

At a seasonally adjusted rate of 342,000 sales a year, the 292,000 new homes on the market at the end of May represented a 10.2-month supply of inventory. That’s down from 10.4 months in April and 12.4 months in January, but many economists consider a six-month supply of homes to be a more equal balance of supply and demand.

The median price of new homes sold in May was $221,600, up 4.2 percent on a non-seasonally adjusted basis from April and 9.7 percent from the recent low of $202,000 seen in March. Looking back a year, the median new-home price was down 3.4 percent from $229,300.

In a healthy real estate market, home sales usually pick up in the spring. The National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday that sales of resale homes posted a second consecutive monthly gain in May — the first time that has happened since September 2005. The median resale-home price was down 16.8 percent in May from a year earlier, to $173,000, NAR said (see story).

After declining for six consecutive months — from a pace of 500,000 transactions per year in July 2008 to 329,000 per year in January 2009 — new-home sales had rebounded in February to a pace of 354,000 a year before retreating from that recent high.

NAR estimates that distressed properties accounted for one in three resale-home sales in May, and homebuilders may be having difficulty competing with bank-owned (REO) properties, the financial and housing market blog Calculated Risk observed.

Calculated Risk expects sales of distressed properties to stay elevated "for some time," but that the current 14:1 ratio of resale-home sales to new-home sales will eventually begin moving back toward the historic trendline of 6:1.

Housing starts jumped 17 percent from April to May, to an annual rate of 532,000, although much of the increase was due to new multifamily construction projects getting under way (see story).

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