Americans stepped back from buying new homes in March, the third straight monthly decline as sales plunged sharply in the Western states.

The Commerce Department says new-home sales slipped 1.5 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 511,000, down from 519,000 in February and 521,000 in January.

Sales plummeted 23.6 percent in the West, which has been prone to volatile swings in sales as one of the priciest housing markets.

Sales were flat in the Northeast and rose in the Midwest and South. Purchases of new homes are running slightly above their year-to-date pace from 2015, although the rise in inventories suggests that demand might not be as strong as builders had hoped.

The median new-home sales price fell 1.8 percent from a year ago to $288,000.