Sales of new homes rose in April for the first time in six months although the unexpected increase still left activity near the lowest level in 17 years.

The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that sales of new homes rose 3.3 percent in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 526,000 units.

But the government revised March activity lower to show an even bigger drop of 11 percent to an annual rate of 509,000, which was the weakest pace for sales since April 1991. Economists believe that new home sales will remain weak for some time as the housing industry struggles with falling prices and rising mortgage foreclosures, which are dumping even more homes on an already glutted market.

The Commerce report showed that the median price of a new home sold in April dropped to $246,100 in April, down 4.2 percent from April 2007.

A separate report showed home prices falling during the first three months of this year at the sharpest rate in two decades. The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index fell 14.1 percent in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, the biggest year-over-year decline since the index began in 1988.

The Commerce report on new home sales showed the April rebound was led by a huge 41.7 percent surge in sales in the Northeast. Sales were up 8.3 percent in the West and 5.8 percent in the Midwest. The only region which saw a decline in sales in April was the South, where sales fell by 2.4 percent.