Sales of existing homes fall for sixth month with annual price drop biggest on record

Wednesday, October 25th 2006, 9:52 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP)_ Sales of existing homes fell for a sixth straight month in September and the median sales price dropped on an annual basis by the largest amount on record, further documenting a lukewarm housing market.

The National Association of Realtors reported that sales of previously owned homes fell by 1.9 percent in September to a seasonally adjusted sales pace of 6.18 million units, the slowest sales rate since January 2004.

The median price of a single-family home fell to $219,800 last month, a drop of 2.5 percent from the price in September 2005. That was the biggest year-over-year price decline in records going back nearly four decades.

Housing, which had set sales records for both new and existing homes for five consecutive years, has been rapidly loosing altitude this year, as consumers were battered by rising mortgage rates, soaring energy prices and a slowing economy.

However, economists with the Realtors said they believed the housing decline could be hitting bottom.

``The worst is behind us as far as a market correction _ this is likely the trough for sales,'' said David Lereah, the Realtors' chief economist. ``When consumers recognize that home sales are stabilizing, we'll see the buyers who've been on the sidelines get back into the market.''

However, analysts said that the weakness in housing could last for several more months with a real upturn in sales not occurring until next spring.

Sales were down in all sections of the country except the South, which posted a small 0.4 percent decline. Sales fell the most in the Northeast, a drop of 3.7 percent, followed by the West, where sales were down 3.1 percent, and the Midwest, where sales fell by 2.8 percent.

The inventory of unsold homes, after climbing to all-time highs, fell for a second straight month, decreasing 2.4 percent, to 3.75 million unsold homes at the end of September, which represents a 7.3 months supply at the September sales pace.

Sales of single-family homes dropped by 1.6 percent to an annual rate of 5.42 million units while sales of condominiums fell by 3.2 percent to an annual rate of 763,000 units.

The 2.5 percent drop in the price of single-family homes pushed them down to $219,800 while condominium prices fell by 3.2 percent to a median price which was also $219,800.