Sales have risen 9.6 percent from a year ago, evidence that home sales are slowly improving. Still, the pace has fallen since nearly touching a two-year high in April and it remains well below the 6 million that economists consider healthy.
The monthly decline follows a report that employers added the fewest jobs in May in a year. Weaker hiring has slowed the broader economy and could lead some to reconsider buying a home, even with record-low mortgage rates.
"Not a surprise that existing home sales took a step back in May," said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets. Lee noted that the level of home sales is still "descent." But she said "softening job growth could slow the housing recovery."
First-time buyers, who are critical to a recovery, made up just 34 percent of sales in May. That's down slightly from 35 percent in April. In healthy market, the number is more than 40 percent.
One positive sign: The supply of homes for sale remains low. The inventory of unsold home in May was just 2.49 million, roughly the same level as April. It would take little more than six months to exhaust the supply at the current sales pace, a ratio last seen in 2006 when the housing market was booming.
A low supply typically encourages more people to put homes up for sale. That generally improves the overall quality of the homes on the market, which drives prices higher.
The median price for a home sold in May was $182,600, up 5.1 percent from $173,700 in April. It was the highest median price since June 2010 -- when sales benefited from a federal home-buying tax credit.
Rebounding Real Estate Markets: Top 10 Turnaround Towns
May Home Sales Slide 1.5 Percent
Median List Price Appreciation: 17.79 percent
Median Age of Inventory: -16.18 percent
Inventory Change: -29.25 percent
Home Price: $2.999 million
Sq. Ft.: 5,123
After slipping out of Realtor.com's top 10 rankings for the third quarter of last year, Punta Gorda has reclaimed status as a town in the vanguard of real estate recovery. Home prices are reportedly just beginning to trend upward. But they still have a long way to go: home prices in town are 56.2 percent lower than they were in 2006, at the peak of the housing boom.
Median List Price Appreciation: 9.09 percent
Median Age of Inventory: -28.89 percent
Inventory Change: -35.28 percent
At 11 percent, the Lakeland-Winter area has the highest rate of unemployment on Realtor.com's top 10. But the real estate market seems to be another story. Realtor.com says that the area was the fourth-most-searched spot by users of their listing service. Distressed home sales have fallen significantly from last year as well.
Home Price: $1.3 million
Sq. Ft.: 7,813
The local market may be on the road to recovery, but distressed home sales still are hindering the market. This French mansion is selling by way of short sale.
Median List Price Appreciation: 7.84 percent
Median Age of Inventory: -35.71 percent
Inventory Change: -41.63 percent
Home Price: $5 million
Sq. Ft.: 8,700
Sale prices in this sultry town have risen 18 percent year-over-year, as of November, quite an encouraging sign for the local market. Meanwhile, unemployment is shrinking. The rate fell to 9.4 percent in November.
This Mediterranean may have just seen its price slashed, but with a $5 million ask, it'll still cost you a pretty penny.
Median List Price Appreciation: 13.38 percent
Median Age of Inventory: -13.64 percent
Inventory Change: -35.94 percent
Home Price: $19.9 million
Sq. Ft.: 8,226
Naples finds its way onto Realtor.com's list for the first time this quarter, thanks, in part, to its housing market's 13.64 percent decline in median age inventory and 13.38 increase in median list price.
Naples offers its fair share of uber-luxury homes. This waterfront mansion, at nearly $20 million, costs $2,419 per square foot.
Pictured here is a dining room of the home (we're guessing there's probably another one considering the place is 8,000 square feet). The elaborately decorated room features what appears to be a flying saucer. Maybe it can beam up the filet mignon.
Median List Price Appreciation: 13.77 percent
Median Age of Inventory: -23.42 percent
Inventory Change: -39.66 percent
Home Price: $1.5 million
Sq. Ft.: 4,875
A drop in foreclosures in this city shrank its year-over-year for-sale inventory by a whopping 40 percent as of last year's fourth quarter. The city also enjoys the benefit of an unemployment rate that is lower than the national average.
Median List Price Appreciation: 10.78 percent
Median Age of Inventory: -26.57 percent
Inventory Change: -31.01 percent
Home Price: $12.5 million
Sq. Ft.: 7,194
In Sarasota, home sales jumped 17 percent last year while median list prices defied the national downward price decline by ticking up 2 percent. Realtor.com goes so far as to suggest that the market may have graduated to "seller's market" status, unthinkable in most housing markets across the country.
Thrust out into the Gulf of Mexico, this jaw-dropping manse practically commands its own square-shaped peninsula. But apparently personal peninsulas don't come cheap in Sarasota: This property is listed to the tune of $12.5 million.
Pictured here is the home's covered dock that parks at least two boats. Inside the home you'll find an exercise room, library and attached "oversized" verandas. Other outdoor amenities include an expansive pool and shuffleboard courts.
Median List Price Appreciation: 31.27 percent
Median Age of Inventory: -17.60 percent
Inventory Change: -35.31 percent
Price: $8.7 million
Sq. Ft.: 13,723
The Fort Myers-Cape Coral area continues to chug along the path to recovery with its median sales price zooming upward by 20 percent last year. But there's more to brag about: The area experienced the highest year-over-year increase in median list price for the fourth quarter -- 31.27 percent.
Median List Price Appreciation: 8.22 percent
Median Age of Inventory: -36.52 percent
Inventory Change: -44.02 percent
Home Price: $3.99 million
Sq. Ft.: 8,676
Year-over-year inventory plummeted by 44 percent in Orlando in the fourth quarter of last year, while list prices rose 8.22 percent. Both movements point toward a market that is truly beginning to right itself.
Fit for the big-swinging, cigar-smoking mogul, this luxury home, which recently had its price cut, puts you close to the links.
Median List Price Appreciation: 15.38 percent
Median Age of Inventory: -27.47 percent
Inventory Change: -48.10 percent
Home Price: $5.995 million
Sq. Ft.: 11,039
An area that had its housing market severely bruised by the foreclosure crisis, the Phoenix-Mesa area is mounting a recovery in a big way. While residents continue to file for foreclosure at a rate above the national average, the glut of cheap homes idling on the market has lured bargain-hunters. The area's relatively low unemployment rate of 7.7 percent also will work in its housing market's favor.
Median List Price Appreciation: 28.57 percent
Median Age of Inventory: -30.89 percent
Inventory Change: -51.44 percent
Home Price: $6 million
Sq. Ft.: 3,870
Buy in the city where the heat is on -- all night on the beach 'cause the housing slump's gone! Welcome to Miami (beinvenido a Miami)!
Miami leads the pack of cities building toward a recovery. Existing home sales in the Miami area leaped 51 percent in the third quarter compared to a year ago. Meanwhile, inventory shrank by half. Realtor.com suggests that much of the improvement is attributable to strong foreign activity in the market.
This luxury apartment may soon be the trophy home of some foreign magnate. According to Realtor.com, in May of last year, international buyers purchased about 60 percent of existing houses and condos and 90 percent of the newly built homes in Miami.
Home sales neared a two-year high in April, adding to other signs of modest improvement in the industry nearly five years after the housing bubble burst.
Builders are more confident and are starting to build more homes. The government reported Tuesday that builders started work on more single-family homes in May and requested the most permits to build homes and apartments in 3 and a half years.
Sales rose 1 percent in the Midwest, the only region to show an increase. Sales fell 4.8 percent in the Northeast, 3.4 percent in the West and 0.6 percent in the South.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.