New-home sales decline in January

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 -- Sales of newly built, single-family homes declined 11.2 percent in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 309,000 units, the slowest pace on record, according to figures released by the U.S. Commerce Department today.

"This disappointing report highlights just how fragile the economic and housing recovery is right now, and the uncertainties that continue to weigh on consumers, particularly with regard to concerns about job security," said Bob Jones, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders and a home builder from Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "Even with today's exceptionally favorable home buying conditions - including low interest rates, stabilizing house prices and the availability of home buyer tax credits - many consumers simply weren't confident enough to go forward with a new-home purchase in the beginning of this year."

"While the overall economic picture has brightened somewhat, these numbers indicate that the road to a housing and economic recovery remains very uncertain. Many Americans have yet to see much evidence of improvement first-hand, and are therefore reluctant to consider a home purchase," noted NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "Meanwhile, competition from below-market-priced foreclosed and short-sale homes poses an additional challenge to the new-homes market right now. Although we continue to expect a boost in overall sales activity prior to the expiration of the $8,000 and $6,500 home buyer tax credits at the end of April, unseasonably poor weather across much of the country may delay the full impact of those incentives until closer to the deadline."

The Midwest was the only region of the country to register an increase in new-home sales this January, posting a 2.1 percent gain from an abnormally low December rate. The Northeast and West posted double-digit declines, of 35.1 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively, and the South posted a 9.5 percent decline.

While the overall number of new homes on the market remained virtually unchanged in January, at 234,000 units, the month's supply rose to 9.1 from 8.0 in the previous month due to January's slower sales pace.

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