Existing-home sales slipped 2% in March and are down nearly 20% from a year ago, according to figures released today by the National Association of Realtors.

Sales of existing single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops dipped to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 4.93 million units in March versus 5.03 million in February. Sales in March were 19.3% below the 6.11 million-unit pace in March 2007. But the performance last month was uneven-condo sales were up while single-family sales were down, and sales rose in the Northeast and West but fell in the Midwest and South.

"Though mortgage rates are at historically low levels, some borrowers are facing restrictive lending practices in declining markets," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist. "At the same time, many buyers continue to bide their time with a large number of homes to choose from, while other potential buyers remain on the sidelines."

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 5.97% in March from 5.92% in February; the rate was 6.16% in March 2007.

The national median existing-home price was $200,700 in March, down 7.7% from the year-ago median price of $217,400. The sales slowdown was more pronounced in high-cost areas, while some low-cost markets saw greater activity, resulting in price gains in markets such as Des Moines, Iowa; Austin, Texas; and Durham, N.C. 

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 2.2% to an annual pace of 910,000 in March, but are 18.8% below March 2007. The median price in the Northeast was $284,300, up 4.6% from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West rose 2.2% in March to a level of 940,000 but are 22.3% below a year ago. The median price in the West was $285,100, which is 14.7% lower than March 2007. 

In the South, existing-home sales fell 3.5% to an annual rate of 1.92 million in March and are 20.0% below March 2007. The median price in the South was $167,200, down 7.1% from a year ago. 

Existing-home sales in the Midwest dropped 6.5% to an annual rate of 1.16 million in March, and are 15.9% below a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $152,600, down 5.3% from March 2007.