First-quarter U.S. home prices dropped by the largest amount on record from a year earlier, led by California and Florida, as bankers sold foreclosed properties.

The national median price fell 14%, to $169,000, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday.

Prices dropped in 134 of 152 metropolitan areas, with the deepest declines in Cape Coral and Fort Myers, Fla., followed by San Francisco and San Jose.

Distressed sales increased transactions in 17 states from the fourth quarter as speculators and first-time buyers purchased bank-owned properties. Such homes typically sold for 20% less than others, the realty group said.

The inventory of previously owned homes on the market dropped to 3.7 million in March, from 3.8 million in February. The number of new homes for sale fell to 311,000, the lowest since January 2002, according to the Commerce Department.

"There are a lot of forces pushing the market in different directions," said Brian Bethune, economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass. "We've seen huge improvements in affordability, not only in prices but also in terms of mortgage rates below 5%, but what's pushing down those prices is foreclosures and job losses."

The realty group said existing home sales fell 6.8% from a year earlier and 3.2% from the fourth quarter, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million units. The total includes single-family homes, condominiums and co-ops.

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