New home sales at all-time low

Census Bureau says sales of newly built homes fell 10% in January to the lowest level since reporting began in 1963.

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By Ben Rooney, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Sales of newly constructed homes fell 10% in January, sinking to the lowest level on record, according to a government report released Thursday.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that new home sales fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 309,000 in January from a revised 344,000 in December. It was the lowest level since the Census Bureau began keeping records in 1963.

Economists were expecting a sales rate of 324,000, according to consensus estimates compiled by Briefing.com.

The report also showed that the median sales price of new houses sold in January was $201,000, down 15% from $232,400 a year ago.

The decline in new home sales comes as builders continue to scale back construction and work off an inventory of empty properties, said Adam York, economic analyst at Wachovia Economics Group.

"We expect sales activity will remain constrained over the coming months as buyers struggle with access to credit and worry about their income prospects and the U.S. economy," York wrote in a research report.

One bright spot: the number of homes for sale at the end of January was 340,000, down from 357,000 at the end of December, according to the report.

Inventory levels have declined steadily in recent months and are now approaching healthy levels, according to York.

"With the prospect of the new home market returning to equilibrium by summer, the existing home market may be able to see improvement in the months thereafter," he said.

Sales fell 28% in the West, where the market was drastically overbuilt during the housing boom. In the Northeast, sales rose 12%. To top of page

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