WASHINGTON -- Sales of new homes fell in April for the first time in three months, but held at a level above the record number sold during the same period three years ago, the U.S. Commerce Department reported.

New home sales dropped 9.5% to 894,000 at an annual pace, the slowest in five months, from a rate of 988,000 in March, the Commerce Department said. Even so, sales are running faster than they did for all of 1998, a record year for builders. In 1998, 886,000 new homes were sold.

For the past five months, the annual rate of sales exceeded that number. New homes account for about 15% of all houses sold. By region, April sales decreased 13.1% in the South, 10.9% in the Midwest, 6.3% in the Northeast and 1.4% in the West.