Housing Prices, Sales Continue Decline

The nationwide housing slump is far from over, with average home prices tumbling to their lowest level in nearly a decade, according to the closely watched S&P Case-Shiller index released today.

A separate report from the Commerce Department says new home sales fell last month by the most in more than a year to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 328,000 units.  That followed a 7.3 percent increase in February.

The median sales price of new houses sold in March 2012 was $234,500; the average sales price was $291,200.

As a percentage, new home sales in March were lower than those of February, because more new homes were sold in February than previously reported.  Once again, warm weather could be impacting this economic data.

The numbers from both reports show the housing market remains under strain.

"My take is that things are improving year over year in the housing market in general but we have a very long and bumpy road to recovery," says Doug Lebda, CEO of the home loan site LendingTree.com.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home-price index showed that prices dropped in February from January in 16 of the 20 cities it tracks.

Miami, San Diego and Phoenix were the bright spot in the report; they were among the hardest-hit cities in the housing crisis and showed price gains compared with a month ago.

Atlanta had the weakest housing market, down 17.3 percent compared with a year ago.  Chicago at -6.9 percent and Cleveland at -4.4 percent also saw steep declines.

Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Las Vegas, New York, Portland, Seattle and Tampa posted new all-time lows, according to the index.

Average home prices across the United States are back to the levels where they were in late 2002, according to S&P's the 20-City Composite Index.

New home sales numbers were revised higher for February, which is why the March drop in the government report was so large.

"What we have really is for the first quarter of the year a reasonably small but solid increase in home sales over the fourth quarter of last year," says David Crowe, chief economist at the National Association of Homebuilders.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.