The National Association of Realtors today (May 15) reports that though existing homes sales in the first quarter generally remain below a year ago, there has been sequential improvement from the fourth quarter of last year in most states.

The Realtors, in their quarterly state-by-state survey, found that total state existing-home sales, including single-family and condo, were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate1 of 6.41 million units in the first quarter, down 6.6% from a 6.86 million-unit pace in the first quarter of 2006 but 2.4% higher than the fourth quarter 2006 level of 6.26 million. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia showed increases in the sales pace from a year ago, up from only six states showing gains in the fourth quarter report. One state was unchanged, and complete data for two states were not available.

In the first quarter, metro area existing single-family home prices, comparing changes in 145 metropolitan statistical areas, show 82 metros had price increases from a year ago, including 11 areas with double-digit annual gains; 62 had price declines, and one was unchanged. In the fourth quarter,71 areas reported price gains.SEE SALES DATA HERE. SEE PRICE DATA HERE.

Lawrence Yun, NAR senior economist, said the data shows a broad stabilization. "One of the benefits of looking at quarterly data is that it's more representative than monthly reports, smoothing out the effects of unusual weather," he said. "Essentially, we see that the existing-home market is stabilizing in a broad cyclical trough and moving in the right direction, with a modest gain from the fourth quarter. Conditions changed fairly rapidly during the boom, but we need more patience now to see a slow, gradual recovery, which should start in the second half of this year."

The national median existing single-family home price was $212,300 in the first quarter, down 1.8% from last year's first quarter price of $216,100. In the fourth quarter, the median price was 2.7% below a year earlier.

NAR President Pat V. Combs, from Grand Rapids, Mich., and vice president of Coldwell Banker-AJS-Schmidt, said , "It appears the worst of the price correction is behind us," she said. "More stable home prices and declining mortgage interest rates are increasing buying power, which should encourage potential buyers who've been on the sidelines."