Sales of new homes plunged to a record low in January, underscoring the formidable challenges facing the housing industry as it tries to recover from the worst slump in decades.In 2008 Americans voted for "change", two years later they're suffering worse than they've ever suffered before. Now the people at the top need to be changed.
The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that new home sales dropped 11.2 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 309,000 units, the lowest level on records going back nearly a half century. The big drop was a surprise to economists who had expected sales would rise about 5 percent over December's pace.
While winter storms were partly to blame, home sales have fallen for three straight months despite sweeping government support. Economists were already worried that an improvement in sales in the second half of last year could falter as various government support programs are withdrawn.
"There is no doubt that January and February are going to be messy months for housing, given the severe weather conditions, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the housing sector has taken another big step back, even with the government aid," Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, said in a research note.
January's weakness was evident in all regions except the Midwest, where sales posted a 2.1 percent increase. Sales were down 35 percent in the Northeast, 12 percent in the West and almost 10 percent in the South.
The drop in sales pushed the median sales price down to $203.500. That was down 5.6 percent from December's median sales price of $215,600, and off 2.4 percent from year-ago prices.
New home sales for all of 2009 had fallen by almost 23 percent to 374,000, the worst year on record. The National Association of Home Builders is forecasting that sales will rise to more than 500,000 sales this year, an improvement from 2009 but still far below the boom years of 2003 through 2006 when builders clocked more than 1 million new home sales per year.