After seeing significant nationwide gains in February, existing-home sales slumped 8.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.27 million in March, as sellers pulled back on listings during the pandemic, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Each of the four major regions reported falling sales, with the West suffering the largest decrease at 13.6%, to an annual rate of 1.08 million in March, a 0.9% decline from a year ago, the report said.

The report did show a slight increase (0.8%) in overall sales year-over-year for the ninth-straight month, but these sales figures are based on closings that represented contracts signed in January and February before the coronavirus shuttered a large part of the economy.

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said the waning home sales in March were expected due to the coronavirus outbreak. “More temporary interruptions to home sales should be expected in the next couple of months, though home prices will still likely rise,” he said.

Home prices, however, remain solidly strong. The median existing home price for all housing types in March was $280,600, up 8.0% from March 2019 ($259,700). Every region saw an increase in home prices, with the Northeast and Midwest regions showing the strongest gains.

The median price in the Northeast was $300,400, up 8.3% from March 2019; the median price in the Midwest was $219,700, a 9.7% increase; in the South, the median price was $245,100, a 7.5% increase from a year ago; and it was $420,600, up 8.0%.

The South trailed the West with the biggest decline at 9.1% to an annual rate of 2.29 million in March, up 0.9% from the a year ago. Sales in the Northeast fell by 7.1% to an annual rate of 650,000, a 3.0% decrease from a year ago. And sales in the Midwest fell by 3.1% to an annual rate of 1.25 million, up 4.2% from a year ago.

And while total housing inventory at the end of March totaled 1.50 million units, up 2.7% from February, it declined 10.2% from one year ago (1.67 million). Unsold inventory stood at a 3.4-month supply at the current sales pace, up from three months in February and down from the 3.8-month figure recorded a year ago.

Yun said fewer sellers are listing their homes during the pandemic, but he expects more will come on the market once the crisis dies down.

He noted that despite the social distancing restrictions, many Realtors conducted virtual open-home tours. And with mortgage rates on the decline, a number of first-time buyers were still able to purchase housing last month.

First-time buyers, he noted, accounted for 34% of sales in March, up from both 32% in February and 33% in March 2019.

The market’s foreclosures and short sales represented 3% of sales in March, up from 2% in February, and unchanged from 3% in March 2019, the report showed.