An industry group said Wednesday that pending U.S. home sales dropped to a new low in March, signaling the housing slump has yet to bottom out even as the spring sell season gets under way.
The National Association of Realtors' seasonally adjusted index of pending sales for existing homes fell to 83.0 from a downwardly revised February reading of 83.8, the index's previous low. The index stood at 103.9 in March 2007.
Wall Street economists polled by Thomson/IFR had predicted the index would slip to a reading of 83.8. (Video: CNBC's Diana Olick on the numbers)
A reading of 100 is equal to the average level of sales activity in 2001, when the index started.
Falling home prices and a tight credit environment have pummeled the housing market and sent potential buyers to the sidelines to wait out the slump. So far, there's been no evidence that the traditionally strong spring selling season is jump-starting any sales activity.
However, the trade group predicts existing home sales activity and the economy will pick up in the second half of the year as larger home loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration become more widely available. The FHA recently raised the mortgage limits for loans it guarantees.
"Things are beginning to improve, but the availability of affordable mortgages is uneven around the country and sometimes within metropolitan areas," said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.
NAR expects the median price of an existing home to decline 2.4 percent this year to $213,700.