updated 8/15/2007 7:44:42 PM ET 2007-08-15T23:44:42

Sales of existing homes fell in 41 states during the April-June quarter while home prices were down in one-third of the metropolitan areas surveyed, a real estate trade group reported Wednesday.

The new figures from the National Association of Realtors underscored the severity of the current housing slump, the worst downturn in 16 years.

However, Realtors officials said they saw some glimmers of hope in the data. They noted that existing home prices were up in 97 of the 149 metropolitan areas surveyed compared with the sales prices of a year ago.

That represented price gains for 65 percent of the areas surveyed, an improvement from the first quarter of this year when only about 55 percent of the metropolitan areas reported price gains from the same period a year ago. In the fourth quarter of last year, fewer than half of the metropolitan areas reported price gains.

“Although home prices are relatively flat, more metro areas are showing price gains with general improvement since bottoming-out in the fourth quarter of 2006,” said Lawrence Yun, senior economist for the Realtors.

However, a separate housing report found the industry is still being battered by the rising number of home foreclosures, particularly in the subprime mortgage market, which provided loans to borrowers with weak credit histories.

The National Association of Home Builders said its survey of builder confidence for August dropped by 2 points to 22, its lowest reading since January 1991, when the country was also caught in a severe housing downturn.

“Builders realize that issues related to mortgage credit cost and availability have become more acute, filtering some prospective buyers out of the market and prompting others to delay their decision to purchase a home,” said Brian Catalde, a home builder from El Segundo, Calif., and the president of the home builders group.

The states suffering the biggest drop in sales in the second quarter, compared with the same period a year ago, were Florida, down 41.3 percent, and Nevada, down 37.5 percent. Other states with big declines were Arizona, down 23.4 percent; Tennessee, down 21.5 percent; Maryland, down 21.1 percent, and California, down 19.8 percent.

Bucking the downward trend, six states showed sales increases during the second quarter, while one state had unchanged sales and there was incomplete data for two states, the Realtors reported.

Wyoming had the biggest sales increase, a rise of 10.8 percent in the second quarter of this year compared with the second quarter of 2006. Sales were up 4.1 percent in Iowa from a year ago while sales in North Dakota rose by 2.9 percent, the third strongest gain.

Nationwide, sales of existing homes totaled 5.91 million units at an annual rate in the second quarter, down 10.8 percent from the sales pace of the second quarter of 2006.

The national median sales price in the second quarter was $223,800, down 1.5 percent from a median price in the spring of 2006.

Among the country’s largest metropolitan areas, price declines in the second quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2006 were experienced in Detroit, down 7.2 percent; Boston, down 2.1 percent, and Phoenix, Ariz., down 2.8 percent.

Other big cities with price declines were Cleveland, down 7.2 percent; Sacramento, Calif., down 6.3 percent, and Tampa, Fla., down 3.9 percent.

Among the biggest metropolitan areas, cities seeing price gains included New York City, up 1.7 percent, Los Angeles, up 3 percent; Chicago, up 1.7 percent, and Dallas, up 1.7 percent.

“Recent mortgage disruptions will hold back sales temporarily, but the fundamental momentum clearly suggests stabilizing price trends in many local markets,” Yun said.

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


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