Sales of new U.S. homes plummeted in March, as the spring buying season opened with sharp declines in the Northeast and South.

The Commerce Department says new-home sales fell 11.4 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 481,000. This marks a swift reversal from an annual sales pace of 543,000 in February, which had been the strongest performance in seven years.

Purchases of new homes have been volatile on a monthly basis, although sales during the first quarter of 2015 are higher than in 2014.

New-homes sales last month plunged 33 percent in the Northeast and 15.8 percent in the South, while the West registered a slight loss and the Midwest reported a modest gain.

The median sales price fell 1.7 percent since March 2014 to $277,400.