PhotoThe rise in existing-home sales in January to the highest annual rate in six months was undone in February.

The National Association of Realtors reports total sales of previously-owned homes -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops -- plunged 7.1% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.08 million. Even with that huge decline, sales are up 2.2% from a year earlier.

"Sales took a considerable step back in most of the country last month, and especially in the Northeast and Midwest," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "The lull in contract signings in January from the large East Coast blizzard, along with the slump in the stock market, may have played a role in February's lack of closings. However, the main issue continues to be a supply and affordability problem. Finding the right property at an affordable price is burdening many potential buyers."

Prices and inventory

The median existing-home price for all housing types last month was $210,800, up 4.4% from a year earlier, marking the 48th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

Total housing inventory at the end of the month was up 3.3% -- to 1.88 million existing homes available for sale. However, that's down 1.1% from a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 4.4-month supply at the current sales pace, compared with a supply of 4.0 months in January.

Sales by region

All four major regions experienced sales declines in February.

  • Home sales plummeted 17.1% in the Northeast to an annual rate of 630,000, but are still 5.0% above a year ago. The median price dipped 0.8% to $239,700.
  • In the Midwest, sales were down 13.8% to an annual rate of 1.12 million -- the same as in February 2015. The median price was $162,700, up 6.3% from a year ago.
  • Homes in the South sold at an annual rate of 2.20 million, down 1.8% in February, but are still 3.3% higher than they were at the same time in 2015. The median price was $186,400, a 5.0% gain from a year ago.
  • Existing-home sales in the West were off 3.4% to an annual rate of 1.13 million, but remain 0.9% higher than a year ago. The median price rose 7.0% from February 2015 -- to $308,800.

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