WASHINGTON — Sales of new homes plunged in March to the slowest pace in 161/2; years as a two-year housing downturn extended into the start of another spring sales season. The median price of a new home in March compared to a year ago fell at the fastest clip in 38 years.

WASHINGTON — Sales of new homes plunged in March to the slowest pace in 161/2; years as a two-year housing downturn extended into the start of another spring sales season. The median price of a new home in March compared to a year ago fell at the fastest clip in 38 years.

Sales of new homes dropped by 8.5 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 526,000 units, the slowest sales pace since October 1991, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

The median price of a home sold in March dropped by 13.3 percent compared with March 2007, the biggest year-over-year price decline since a 14.6 percent plunge in July 1970.

In Jackson County, new home sales are 25 percent slower than a year ago and the median price fell to $249,900 in March, a drop of 17.1 percent.

Housing, which boomed for five years, has been in a prolonged slump for the past two years with sales and home prices falling at especially sharp rates in formerly hot sales areas.

Some analysts said they believe the slide in sales may be close to ending although they said any rebound is likely to be slow and anemic with prices continuing to fall, possibly until this time next year.