Consumers bought just 321,000 homes in 2010, the lowest reading in almost half a century, according to preliminary figures released Wednesday morning by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
But there was some positive news in the ugly results: new homes sold at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 329,000 in December, an 18% jump from November, and the best showing in eight months.
Also, the supply of new homes for sale fell to 6.9 months, compared to 8.4 months in November.
Over the past few weeks, mortgage bankers interviewed by National Mortgage News have reported an increase in purchase applications, but also expressed concern about the "pull through" rate on these loans.
The 321,000 figure for homes that actually sold in 2010 reflects an estimate made by the Census Bureau and HUD and could be revised later on. Compared to 2009, new home sales dropped 14.4%.
It was the fifth consecutive year that home sales have declined after hitting record highs for the five previous years when housing in the U.S. boomed.
Economists believe it could be years before sales hit a healthy rate of 600,000 units a year.