WASHINGTON Sales of new homes plunged last month to their lowest level in more than 12 years, a grim testament to the problems plaguing the housing sector.
The Commerce Department reported Friday that new-home sales tumbled by 9 percent in November from October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 647,000. That was the worst showing since April 1995, when the pace of sales was 621,000.
The sales pace for November was much weaker than economists were expecting. They were predicting sales in the weakest sector of the economy to drop by around 1.8 percent, to a pace of 715,000.
The median sales price of a new home dipped to $239,100 in November. That is 0.4 percent lower than a year ago. The median price is where half sell for more and half for less.
By region, sales fell in all parts of the country, except for the West, where they rose.
New-home sales dropped by 19.3 percent in the Northeast. They plunged by 27.6 percent in the Midwest and they fell by 6.4 percent in the South. However, sales increased by 4 percent in the West.
Over the last 12 months, new-home sales nationwide have tumbled by 34.4 percent, the biggest annual slide since early 1991, and stark evidence of the painful collapse in the once high-flying housing market.
That market has been suffering through a severe slump following five years of record-breaking activity from 2001 through 2005. Sales turned weak as did home prices. The boom-to-bust situation has increased dangers to the economy as a whole and has been especially hard on some homeowners.
Foreclosures have soared to record highs and probably will keep rising. A drop in home prices left some people stuck with balances on their home mortgages that eclipsed the worth of their home. Other home buyers were clobbered as low introductory rates on their mortgages jumped to much higher rates, which they couldn't afford.
With credit now harder to get to finance a home purchase, the problems in housing have grown worse. Unsold homes have piled up. The problems are expected to persist well into next year.
The housing and mortgage meltdowns have raised the odds that the country will fall into a recession. And, it has given Democrats and Republicans politicians including those who want to be the next president plenty of opportunities to spread blame around.
To help bolster the economy, the Federal Reserve has sliced a key interest rate three times this year. Its latest rate cut, on Dec. 11, dropped the Fed's key rate to 4.25 percent, a two-year low. Many economists are predicting the Fed will lower rates again when they meet in late January.
The economy's growth is expected to have slowed to a pace of just 1.5 percent or less in the October-to-December. Analysts believe that the housing and credit troubles will force consumers and businesses to tighten the belts, causing the economy to lose considerable speed. The housing slump has been a drag on overall economic activity, lopping more than a full percentage point off growth during the summer alone.