updated 8/8/2007 4:44:33 PM ET 2007-08-08T20:44:33

U.S. home sales will hit a five-year low this year as wary lenders cut back on loans for many borrowers, a trade group for real estate agents said Wednesday.

The National Association of Realtors’ revised forecast calls for existing home sales of 6.04 million in 2007, down 6.8 percent from last year. The forecast was 1 percent lower, or 70,000 fewer homes, than July’s prediction of 6.11 million.

This year’s sales would be the lowest since 2002, when sales hit 5.63 million. Last year’s sales were 6.48 million.

Next year, the trade group expects sales to climb to 6.38 million, up slightly from the forecast it gave in July of 6.37 million.

The forecast comes as delinquencies among borrowers with weak, or subprime, credit have risen dramatically over the past year, and other loans are showing weakness as well.

“With fewer affordable loans available, that will cut back on some of the homebuyers who wanted to enter the market,” Lawrence Yun, the trade group’s senior economist, said in an interview. However, Yun projected that demand would rebound next year.

As of May, more than 16 percent of mortgages issued to subprime borrowers were behind on their payments by 60 days or more — nearly double last year’s levels, according to research firm First American LoanPerformance.

As delinquencies rise, lenders are reducing the availability of credit to those borrowers.

While sales fall, some elements of supply are expected to be down as well. More than 1.4 million housing starts, including multifamily units, are forecast this year and in 2008, but that is down from 1.8 million last year.

Median nationwide existing-home prices are expected to fall by 1.2 percent to a median of $219,300 this year, before climbing back next year to $223,600. Median new home prices are projected to fall 2.3 percent to $240,800 this year and then rise to $246,300 in 2008.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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