The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday existing home sales fell 8.6 percent to an annual rate of 4.49 million in November, from a downwardly revised pace of 4.91 million in October.
Sales had been expected to fall to a pace of 4.9 million units. according to Thomson Reuters.
The median sales price plunged 13.2 percent in November to $181,300, from $208,000 a year ago. That was the lowest price since February 2004, the biggest year-over-year drop on records going back to 1968 and most likely the biggest drop since the Great Depression.
Lawrence Yun, the normally upbeat chief economist of the Realtors group, found few positive spots in the month's dismal data. But he did note that after prior stock market crashes home sales usually rebounded within a few months.
"We hope that, similarly, the current slowdown in home sales activity is a short-term phenomenon," Yun said, noting that people in the real estate industry are "crossing our fingers" that the market will recover. Sales fell around the country, with the largest drop -- of 12 percent -- in the Northeast.
Nationally, the Realtors group estimates that sales of distressed properties made up 45 percent of all property sales in November.
There were 4.2 million unsold homes on the market in last month. At the current sales pace, it would take 11.2 months to sell all the properties, matching a record set last spring.
The glut is being driven by a massive wave of mortgage foreclosures. And until the inventory of homes falls to more normal levels, analysts say, the housing slump is likely to persist.