After slipping in April, existing-home sales fell again in May compared to the month before, according to the latest monthly report from the National Association of Realtors.

Completed sales of existing single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops declined 3.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.81 million in May from a downwardly revised 5 million in April, the report said. Sales fell 15.3 percent compared to May 2010 when the deadline for a federal homebuyer tax credit program helped fuel sales.

The national median price for existing homes fell 4.6 percent year-over-year last month, to $166,500. Distressed properties, typically sold at a discount, made up 31 percent of sales in May, down from 37 percent in April and flat from May 2010, the report said.

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, attributed the sales decline to high gas prices, widespread severe weather, and "overly restrictive loan underwriting standards," which he said are "clearly holding back the recovery."

Nevertheless, at least partially due to lowering gas prices, the "pace of sales activity in the second half of the year is expected to be stronger than the first half, and will be much stronger than the second half of last year," Yun said.

Total unsold inventory dipped 1 percent to 3.72 million — a 9.3-month supply at the current sales pace, the report said. That’s a slight jump from a 9-month supply in April.

According to a separate NAR survey, cash buyers accounted for 30 percent of purchases in May, down from 31 percent in April, the report said.

First-time buyers made up 35 percent of sales, down from 36 percent in April and from 46 percent in May 2010. Investors made up 19 percent of sales, up from 14 percent in May 2010.

In a decline Yun partly attributed to flooding and other harsh weather, the Midwest experienced the biggest drop in both month-to-month and year-over-year sales in May. Existing-home sales in the region fell 6.4 percent compared to April and 22.7 percent compared to May 2010, to an annual rate of 1.02 million. The median price fell 8.5 percent year-over-year, to $136,400.

In the South, sales fell 5.1 percent month-to-month and 14.4 percent year-over-year to 1.85 million. Median price fell 3.1 percent year-over-year, to $149,200.

The Northeast was the only region to see its median price rise: up 6.1 percent to $241,500. The region’s sales fell, however, on a month-to-month (2.5 percent) and year-over-year (13.5 percent) basis, to 770,000.

The West saw the steepest price drop among the regions: down 12.6 percent to $192,300. Meanwhile, the region fared best in sales, which stayed flat month-to-month and fell 10 percent year-over-year, to an annual rate of 1.17 million. That sales figure was partly due to a 58.4 percent year-over-year jump in sales of homes priced under $100,000. Every other price range in the region saw its sales decline.

In the U.S. overall, too, sales fell in every price range except for homes under $100,000. Homes under $250,000 made up 68.7 percent of purchases nationwide.

Out of 18 metro areas tracked by NAR, sales rose year-over-year in four: Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (24.4 percent); Phoenix (8.1 percent); New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island (5.9 percent); and Atlanta (1.1 percent).

The rest saw sales drop year-over-year in May. Four metros saw sales fall by 20 percent or more: St. Louis (26.2 percent); Philadelphia (24.9 percent); Kansas City (23.3 percent); and Cincinnati (20.7 percent).

Prices fell in 13 out of 18 metro areas. Atlanta saw the biggest drop, down 17 percent to $103,700; followed by Phoenix, down 14.2 percent to $124,200.

Prices rose or remained flat in five metros: San Antonio (up 3.6 percent, to $148,700); Washington, D.C. (2.1 percent, to $337,400); Houston (1.6 percent, to $157,100); Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (0.2 percent, to $214,100); and, Philadelphia (flat at $215,900).

A separate report released today by the California Association of Realtors found that pending home sales in the state rose year-over-year in May for the first time in 18 months.

Pending home sales — based on home purchase contracts signed but not yet closed — rose 12 percent compared to May 2010, according to CAR’s Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI). The index was 118.3, up 1.6 percent from April.

The share of distressed homes sold in the state remained flat month-to-month in May, at 48 percent, and rose from 46 percent in May 2010. REOs (bank-owned properties) accounted for 28 percent of sales, while short sales accounted for 19 percent — both unchanged from April.

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