updated 5/13/2008 1:07:38 PM ET 2008-05-13T17:07:38

Median home prices fell in two-thirds of the cities surveyed during the first three months of this year while 46 states reported experienced declining sales, a real estate trade group reported Tuesday.

The National Association of Realtors said that median prices for existing single-family homes dropped in 100 of 149 metropolitan areas in the January-March period, while 48 metropolitan areas saw prices increase and one reported no change.

The price declines in 67 percent of the areas surveyed was the largest percentage of areas reporting declining prices in the history of the Realtors’ survey, which goes back to 1979. Prices had fallen in 34 percent of the cities surveyed in the October-December survey.

Nationally, the median home price — the point where half the homes sold for more and half for less — fell to $196,300 in the first quarter, down by 7.7 percent from the same period a year ago, when the median sales price was $212,600.

Sales of existing homes were down in 46 states. The largest percentage plunge was a 38.6 percent drop in Maryland during the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 2007. Only Alaska, Illinois and New Jersey reported sales increases during the survey period. Data for New Hampshire was not available.

Nationally, sales fell by 22.2 percent in the first quarter compared with the same period a year ago.

The steep decline in prices and sales were the latest indication of the problems facing the housing market, which is in a prolonged slump that has dragged down sales and home prices.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors, said that part of the problem in the first three months of the year was that it was hard to get so-called jumbo loans because of the credit squeeze triggered by rising mortgage defaults, particularly for subprime loans, mortgages made to borrowers with weak credit histories. Jumbo loans are critical to finance homes in high-cost areas of the country.

“These are highly unusual results because there were very few jumbo loan originations in the latest quarter, so sales are much slower in high-cost areas, and at the same time foreclosures related to subprime mortgages rose,” he said.

Yun said that subprime mortgages are accounting for more than half of all mortgage foreclosures and that sharp price declines are principally occurring in neighborhoods where subprime loans had been prevalent.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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