U.S. existing-home sales, prices fall; King County bucks national price drop

WASHINGTON — Sales of existing homes fell nationwide to the lowest level in nearly a decade in January while the median price for a home dropped for the fifth straight month.

The National Association of Realtors said Monday that sales of single-family homes and condominiums dropped by 0.4 percent across the nation last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million units, the slowest sales pace on records going back to 1999.

The median price of a home sold in January slid to $201,100, a drop of 4.6 percent from a year ago.

Bucking the national trend, King County's median price climbed 4 percent in January, compared with a year earlier, for detached houses and condos combined.

January's King County sales were down 30.6 percent compared with a year earlier. However that was an improvement over December's year-over-year sales, which were down 33.1 percent.

The nationwide drop in sales and the fifth consecutive decline in U.S. home prices underscored the continued pressure facing housing, which is struggling to emerge from its worst slump in a quarter-century.

Sales were weak in all parts of the country except the Midwest, where sales posted an increase of 3.4 percent. Sales dropped 3.6 percent in the Northeast, 2.1 percent in the West and 0.5 percent in the South.

Sales of both existing homes and new homes tumbled for a second straight year in 2007 as the housing industry was battered by a severe credit crunch that hit in August as major financial institutions began reporting multibillion-dollar losses on their investments in risky subprime mortgages — loans made to homeowners with weak credit.

King County data was supplied by Seattle Times business reporter Elizabeth Rhodes.