Still, June's sales pace was about 15 percent above the 305,000-unit pace in the same month of 2011.
And many economists are urging the housing industry not to despair of the lower numbers.
"One should never get too excited [or depressed] by the latest new-home sales figures because they are not estimated very well," said Patrick Newport, housing economist with IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass.
"For example, June's estimate fails the statistical significance test; it almost always does," he said. "We prefer looking at moving averages or quarterly figures, since these estimates iron out volatility and highlight trends."
Economist Joel L. Naroff of Holland, Bucks County, who has been touting housing as "the next leading light in the economy," observed that "sometimes you have to take one step back to move two steps forward, and that may have happened in June."
"New-home sales fell sharply," he said. "That was not expected. But as usual, the details may not really be as bad as they appear."
Both Naroff and Newport noted that the falloff in sales came in the northeastern United States, and that the "whopping decline" of 60 percent in the region was incomprehensible.
"If you believe that, contact me immediately, as I am selling shares in a bridge and a Broadway musical," said Naroff, dismissing the notion of a grievous decline.
Economists outside the industry point out that three-month moving averages tell a different and probably more accurate story.
Second-quarter new-home sales were up nearly 3 percent from the first quarter and nearly 20 percent from April to June 2011.
Median prices for the second quarter were up 2.8 percent over the same three months of 2011.
Inventory remains tight, Newport said, with the number of homes for sale "a whisker above its all-time low."
Completed homes for sale hit an all-time low of 41,000 units.
"The very tight inventory of new homes for sale at this time [there are only 144,000 nationwide, or a 4.9-month supply at the current pace] poses a challenge to builders, who'd like to have a larger selection for buyers to choose from but continue to confront issues with obtaining credit to build viable new projects," said National Association of Home Builders chief economist David Crowe.
Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @alheavens.