WASHINGTON - Sales of new single-family houses fell 7.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 328,000 in March, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

The March rate was above the 320,000 median annual rate projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters, but well below the revised February rate of 353,000. The February number represents a large upward revision from the originally reported figure of 313,000. The March rate was 7.5% above the March 2011 level of 305,000.

New home sales rose 7.7% in the Northeast and climbed 3.1% in the South, but those gains couldn't offset declines of 27.0% in the West and 20.0% in the Midwest.

The median sales price of new houses sold in March dipped 1.0% to $234,500 from the revised February price of $236,900. The average sales price, however, rose 8.0% to $291,200. That price represents the highest figure since it was $291,700 in December 2010.

The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of March was 144,000, a 1.4% fall from the downwardly revised February figure of 146,000 and a record low. That represents a supply of 5.3 months at the current sales rate.

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