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Originally published Monday, March 21, 2011 at 8:08 PM

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U.S. home prices reach 9-year low

Fewer Americans bought previously owned homes in February, and those who did bought them at steep discounts. The weak sales and rise in...

The Associated Pres

WASHINGTON — Fewer Americans bought previously owned homes in February, and those who did bought them at steep discounts. The weak sales and rise in foreclosures pushed down prices to their lowest level in nearly 9 years.

The National Association of Realtors said Monday that sales of previously occupied homes fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million, down 9.6 percent from 5.4 million in January. The pace is far below the 6 million a year economists say is a healthy market.

Nearly 40 percent of the sales were foreclosures or short sales, when the seller accepts less than he or she owes on the mortgage.

One-third of sales were all cash, twice the rate from a year ago. In troubled housing markets such as Las Vegas and Miami, cash deals represented about half of sales.

Sales fell in all four regions of the country, by 12.2 percent in the Midwest, 10.2 percent in the South, 8 percent in the West and 7.2 percent in the Northeast.

The median sales price fell 5.2 percent to $156,100, the lowest since April 2002.

"This information suggests that value investors are entering the market, possibly a sign that home sales and construction are nearing a bottom," said Joseph A. LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist for Deutsche Bank Securities. "Lower prices are certainly a factor behind the opportunistic buying."

Winter storms hampered sales in much of the U.S. Still, housing has been weak for some time. Millions of foreclosures have forced down home prices and more are expected.

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