The National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday that sales of existing homes fell 8.4% in March to 6.12 million, the biggest drop since January of 1989. The March number was 11.3% below March 2006.

The NAR said the median home price rose to $217,000 from $213,600 in February but fell 0.3% from $217,600 in March 2006.

Sales of existing single-family homes were off 9.5% sequentially and down 11.9% year-over-year, on a seasonally adjusted basis. The median single-family price rose to $215,300, up 1.3% from $212,400 in February but down 0.9% from March 2006. SEE DATA HERE

There was some good news in the realtor numbers. Total housing inventory levels fell 1.6% at the end of March to 3.75 million existing homes, a 7.3-month supply at the current sales pace, up from a 6.8-month supply in February. The months-supply number continued to climb as a result of the decline in sales

"For the last couple months we've been expecting a weather hit on home sales finalized in March, but looking at overall activity in the first quarter we see that existing home sales averaged 6.41 million – a figure that is moderately higher than the sales pace during the second half of 2006," said David Lereah, NAR's chief economist. "We also may be seeing some losses as a result of the subprime fallout. However, this is masking improved fundamentals in the housing market, with lower mortgage interest rates and motivated sellers.

"It's too early to measure a significant impact from tighter lending standards, which should moderately dampen activity, but we're still looking for existing-home sales to gradually improve during the last half of 2007," Lereah said.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were unchanged from February at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 800,000 units in March, 6.7% below the 857,000-unit level in March 2006. The median existing condo price was $228,200 in March, up 3.2% from a year ago.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the South declined 6.2% to an annual sales rate of 2.41 million in March, 9.7% below March 2006. The median price in the South was $180,700, up 0.4% from a year ago. In the Northeast, sales fell 8.2% to 1.12 million, 5.1% lower than a year earlier. The median price was $268,600, 0.7% lower than March 2006. Sales in the West fell 9.1% to an annual pace of 1.20 million, 16.7% lower than March 2006. The median price in the West was $330,600, down 2.9% from a year ago. In the Midwest, sales dropped 10.9% to 1.39 million, 13.7% below a year ago. The median price was $160,400, down 0.2% from March 2006.

Separately, the Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index fell to104.0 in April from 108.2 in March, which itself was a decline from 112.5 in February. The Present Situation Index decreased to 131.3 from 138.5 in March. The Expectations Index declined to 85.8 from 87.9.

Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said, "Unlike the decline in March, which was solely the result of apprehension about the short-term outlook, this month's decline was a combination of weakening expectations and a less favorable assessment of present-day conditions. Rising prices at the gas pump continue to play a key role in dampening consumers' short-term expectations. The decline in the Present Situation Index – the first decline in six months – warrants monitoring in the months ahead, as further declines would suggest a softening in growth."

Regarding consumers' perception of current-day conditions, those claiming conditions are "good" fell to 26.5% from 28.6%; those saying they are "bad" rose to 15.0% from 14.5%. Those saying jobs are "hard to get" rose to 20.4% from 18.9%; those claiming jobs are "plentiful" decreased to 27.8% from 30.3% in March. The percentage of consumers who expect their income to rise in the months ahead fell to 17.0% from 18.0% in March.