Severe cold weather and a shortage of houses on the market pushed home resales to an 18-month low in January, the latest indication that economic activity has hit a soft patch.
The National Association of Realtors said on Friday that home sales dropped 5.1 percent last month to an annual rate of 4.62 million units, the lowest level since July 2012.
The group said unseasonably cold weather was partly to blame, but it also acknowledged some fundamental weakness in the market, with higher mortgage rates and prices and fewer homes for sale.
Lawrence Yun, the group's chief economist, said, "We cannot ignore the ongoing headwinds of tight credit, limited inventory, higher prices and higher mortgage interest rates."
The 30-year fixed mortgage rate is about a full percentage point higher than it was a year ago, even though rates have come down a bit since hitting a two-year high in September.
Sales tumbled in the Northeast, South and Midwest, which were hit by snow storms and ice last month. And they were down 7.3 percent in the West, an indication that other factors apart from the weather also weighed Amazon Deal.
Home resales, which peaked in July, have declined in five of the last six months, and in January were down 5.1 percent from a year ago.
In January, the inventory of unsold homes on the market rose 2.2 percent from December, pushing the supply to 4.9 months. While that was up from December's 4.6 months, it remained below the 6.0 months that analysts consider a healthy balance between supply and demand. The median price for a previously owned home rose 10.7 percent from a year ago.
First-time buyers accounted for 26 percent of the transactions, the smallest share since the group started tracking the series in October 2008. A market share of 40 to 45 percent is considered ideal by economists and real estate professionals.