Sales of existing U.S. homes slowed in October to a 7.09 million unit annual pace, but the median price rose 16.6 percent from a year earlier, the largest jump since July 1979, a trade group said Monday.

Sales of previously owned homes fell 2.7 percent from September's upwardly revised 7.29 million unit pace, the National Association of Realtors said. That figure includes both single-family homes and condominiums.

Existing home sales would have been down 3.2 percent had it not been for strong buying in areas outside the zone hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina, the Realtors' chief economist said. For example, while sales in New Orleans fell 42 percent, sales in nearby Baton Rouge climbed 83 percent.

David Lereah, NAR's chief economist, said the housing sector has likely passed its peak, and he expects continued softening in the months ahead.

"The boom is winding down to an expansion," Lereah said.

"Many of our hot housing markets are transitioning from a sellers' market to a buyers' market."

Analysts had expected overall sales to slow to a 7.17 million unit pace from the originally reported 7.28 million unit pace in September.

The national median home price soared to $218,000, up 16.6 percent from a year ago, the report showed.

The inventory of homes available for sale rose 3.5 percent from September to 2.87 million existing homes, the highest level since 3.04 million units in April 1986.

At the current sales pace, it would take 4.9 months to deplete inventories — the highest in two years — up from 4.6 months' supply in September.

According to data from mortgage finance company Freddie Mac (FRE) cited by the Realtors, average 30-year fixed mortgage rates rose to 6.07 percent in October from 5.77 percent in September.

On a regional basis, home sales fell 7.4 percent in the Northeast, 1.9 percent in the Midwest, 1.8 percent in the South and 1.2 percent in the West.