Area's home sales in April off 24%

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A foreclosure sign posted at a Calif. home. Home sales locally and nationally are off.. (AP)

Existing-home sales fell regionally and nationally in April, with officials of the National Association of Realtors placing some of the blame on tighter credit.

Sales last month were 24 percent below April 2007 in the eight-county Philadelphia region, according to the Prudential Fox & Roach HomExpert Report, using data from Trend Multiple Listing Service.

Nationally, the same year-over-year comparison saw sales decline 17.5 percent, the NAR said.

Because HomExpert includes Mercer and Salem Counties in New Jersey and New Castle and Kent Counties in Delaware, there is no median-sale price for the eight counties alone in its calculations.

For all 12 counties, however, the median sale price declined 1.1 percent year over year, HomExpert reported.

In the eight counties, year-over-year price changes ranged from a decline of 6.8 percent in Gloucester County to a 1.9 percent increase in Montgomery County.

Nationally, the NAR reported a median price drop of 8 percent in the same period.

In the Northeast, sales were 14.7 percent below April 2007, and the median price was 7.7 percent lower.

The greater decline in sales and the smaller drop in median prices in metropolitan Philadelphia, compared with the nation and the Northeast, can be explained in one word:

Foreclosures.

"National sales are being supported by foreclosure sales," said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Economy.com, in West Chester. "There are fewer in this region."

Economists generally are not optimistic about a quick end to the housing slowdown.

"The market for existing homes has three forces working against it," said Patrick Newport, housing economist at Global Insight, in Lexington, Mass.:

Credit remains tight.

The economy is losing jobs.

House prices are falling in more places and at an accelerated rate.

"On top of this, consumer sentiment is at recessionary levels, and gasoline prices are at record highs," Newport said. "All of this adds up to a dismal house-selling season."

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said that eliminating restrictive policies would be a big help to home buyers.

"I would encourage buyers disappointed by poor mortgage options to take another look at the market," he said, "because the lending changes are significant."

Yun said a recent drop in interest rates on conforming jumbo loans would help buyers in high-cost markets, such as California and metropolitan New York.

Conforming loans have established limits, such as $417,000 for a one-family home, thus higher-priced markets such as California tend to have fewer of them.

Don't expect this to happen soon.

"During the recent bubble, home and land prices got out well in front of fundamentals, such as household personal income and housing density," said Peter Morici, professor of business at the University of Maryland.

Had it not been for "creative mortgages, which created huge profits for New York banks and have since proven to be poisonous, many sales would have never been completed at the lofty prices recorded in 2006 and early 2007," Morici said.

Sales will remain well below the 7.1 million of 2005, he said, and prices will continue to slide.


Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.