Home-sales trends took a step down today. The National Association of Realtors released their monthly home-sales data, and on the face of it, all metrics seem to have declined. But a closer inspection of the release suggests a bifurcation between improving conditions in the Northeast and stagnant to declining conditions in the South and West.

Laurence Yun, the chief economist at NAR, would blame it on the weather and suggest that “some closings were simply postponed by winter storms,” but this was most likely not the case. The Northeast and Midwest, which were both hit heavily by winter storms, also displayed strength and improved from January to February. The South and West, however, neither of which were impacted nearly as much, weighed heavily on the data.

Year over year, the sales-pace increased 7%, but the SAAR declined from January to February, 2010. The declining sales-pace yielded an increase in total housing inventory at the end of February of 9.5% to 3.59m existing homes available for sale, an 8.6 month supply at the current pace, up from a 7.8 month supply in January. Sales-patterns in the Southern and Western regions masked the nascent improvements in the Northeast (up 2.4% MoM, 12% YoY) and Midwest (up 2.8% MoM, 8.8% YoY).

Blaming February’s conditions on the weather belies the possible emergence of two very different real estate markets. First, an area of stabilization and recovery that may be developing in the Northeast and Midwest. And second, regions saddled with the left-overs of a housing boon that made states such as Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, and Florida the poster-children for housing speculation and inventory excesses. The division, however, would not be particularly surprising. Afterall, isn’t NAR also always trying to send the message: all real estate is local.

Although sales have been higher than year-ago levels for eight straight months and home prices are much more stable compared to the past few years, the housing recovery is fragile at the moment…Some closings were simply postponed by winter storms, but buyers couldn’t get out to look at homes in some areas and that should negatively impact near-term contract activity.

Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist, National Association of Realtors: via monthly NAR release.