(New-home sales report updated with additional detail.)
WASHINGTON (TheStreet) -- Sales of newly built homes plunged 16.9% in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 250,000, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, a far bigger jump than expected and the worst rate on record since 1962.

The figure was expected to come in at a rate of 288,000, according to consensus estimates at

Briefing.com

, after sales of newly built homes fell in January to an upwardly revised rate of 301,000 units.

>> 10 Top Buy-Rated Real Estate Stocks for 2011

February's new-home sales figure remained 28% below year-earlier levels. Every U.S. region, save for the West, saw record lows last month. The Northeast saw sales drop 57% month over month.

The median sale price of new homes sold last month slumped 13.9% to $202,100, the largest one-month percentage drop on record. The average sales price of new houses sold was $246,000.

The three-month average of new-home sales, which strips out some of the month-to-month volatility inherent in the numbers, fell to 295,000 units, compared with 307,000 in January.

On a seasonally adjusted basis there were 186,000 new homes for sale at the end of February. That represents an 8.9-month supply at the current sales pace.

An estimated 321,000 new homes were sold in 2010, 14.2% below the 2009 figure of 375,000.

Data released Monday showed that

existing-home sales dropped 9.6% in February to a far worse-than-expected seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million units, according to the National Association of Realtors.

February's rate of home resales remained 24.8% below the cyclical peak of 6.49 million units in November 2009, which was the initial deadline for the

first-time homebuyer tax credit, and 2.8% below the home resale rate in February 2010.

"Housing affordability conditions have been at record levels and the economy has been improving, but home sales are being constrained by the twin problems of unnecessarily tight credit, and a measurable level of contract cancellations from some appraisals not supporting prices negotiated between buyers and sellers," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist.

"This tug and pull is causing a gradual but uneven recovery," he added. "Existing-home sales remain 26.4% above the cyclical low last July."

The homebuilder sector is well off its late-spring peak, when

buyers were rushing to take advantage of federal tax credits for homebuyers, and is only slightly higher than at the beginning of 2010. Whereas other sectors have begun a rebound in earnest, the housing sector continues to lag.

The

SPDR S&P Homebuilders

(XHB) - Get Report

, an exchange-traded fund that tracks the homebuilder sector, remains around 60% off its peak of $46.08 in early 2006. The

iShares Dow Jones US Home Construction

(ITB) - Get Report

ETF remains more than 70% off its peak of $50.10 in the spring of 2006.

>> Housing Market to Recover in 2013: Analyst1

Stocks in the homebuilder sector were mixed Wednesday morning.

Among individual builders,

D.R. Horton

(DHI) - Get Report

fell 0.6%,

Toll Brothers

(TOL) - Get Report

declined 1.3% and

Lennar

(LEN) - Get Report

lost 0.2%.

PulteGroup

(PHM) - Get Report

, recently added to

Goldman Sachs'

(GS) - Get Report

conviction buy list, jumped 1.8% while gained 0.4%.

Small-cap builder

KB Home

(KBH) - Get Report

added 0.3%.

-- Written by Miriam Marcus Reimer in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here:

Miriam Reimer

.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to

@miriamsmarket

.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to:

tips@thestreet.com

.

READERS ALSO LIKE:

>> 14 REITs Increasing Dividends Annually

>> 18 Overbought Stocks to Sell Now

>> Bankruptcy Watch: 20 Riskiest Restaurant Stocks

>>See our new stock quote page.

Get more stock ideas and investing advice on our sister site,

Stockpickr.com.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.