U.S. home sales and prices are on a downward slide.
Sales of existing homes dropped 9.6 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 4.88 million units, a pace that's slowed 2.8 percent compared with the 5.02 million level recorded a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors, or NAR.
An annual pace of around 5 million or better is a typical housing market. At the peak of the last cycle, sales ballooned to more than 7 million houses per year.
Nationally, housing is still a buyer's market. Distressed homes, which include short sales, pre-foreclosures and bank-owned homes, accounted for 39 percent of February's sales. All-cash purchases comprised a record 33 percent of the transactions.
Meanwhile, the national median price of existing homes sold was $156,100 in February, a 5.2 percent drop from February 2010, according to the Realtors' group. The inventory of for-sale homes climbed 3.5 percent to 3.49 million properties, 8.6 months' supply at the February pace of sales. A normal market has more like six months' supply.
NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement that he expects the housing recovery to be uneven:
Housing affordability conditions have been at record levels and the economy has been improving, but home sales are being constrained by the twin problems of unnecessarily tight credit and a measurable level of contract cancellations (due to) some appraisals not supporting prices negotiated between buyers and sellers.
Still, NAR has a plan to get house sales back on track. Among its vast array of programs, the group has sent a super-sized red, white and blue bus emblazoned with the slogan "Home Ownership Matters" on a month-long cross-country tour to promote homeownership.
The coach has visited Chicago, where the association is headquartered, and Denver, among other cities, and is scheduled to stop in Portland, Ore., this weekend. Association officials have been on board to give away gift cards and talk up the idea that homeownership is important to the nation, communities and families.
Comments, please: Does homeownership still matter?
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