NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Just 302,000 new homes were sold in 2011, 6.2% below 2010 and the lowest number of annual sales since the government started tracking home sales in 1963.
In December, sales of single-family homes fell 2.2% month-over-month to an annual rate of 307,000, according to estimates released by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
A consensus of experts from Briefing.com had forecast an annual rate of sales of 321,000 for December. The actual result was a 6.9% decline from 12 months earlier, when homes sold at a 329,000 annual rate.
The dismal report was a reversal of other recent housing market trends. Last week, the National Association of Realtors reported that existing-home sales rose for the third straight month in December and the Census Bureau said that construction of new homes had been gaining ground.
Pat Newport, an industry analyst with IHS Global Insight, did not put much stock in the December new-home sales report, however. "They're not statistically significant," he said. "I think the other recent numbers, like on housing starts and permits, give a more accurate picture of the current trends in the market."
Construction gains late in the year indicate that the new home market is picking up, he said.
Still, he added, these are the lowest new home sales numbers for the nation as a whole and for three of the four regions ever recorded. Only the Midwest escaped notching a new a record low.
The median home price for homes sold during December was $210,300 and there was a 6.1-month supply of homes at the current rate of sales.
Getting new home construction healthy again would help revitalize the economy. For every 100 homes built, 300 jobs are created, said David Crowe, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders. "Half of those are on construction sites and the other half are people building appliances, cabinets, carpets and other goods for the home," he said.
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