width=339WASHINGTON - Sales of previously owned U.S. homes fell at the fastest pace on record in December, though prices rose for the first time since the credit crisis began in August 2007, an industry trade group said on Monday.

The National Association of Realtors said existing home sales fell 16.7 percent to an annual rate of 5.45 million units in December, a sharper decline than the 5.90 million unit pace expected.

For the entire year, sales rose 4.9 percent in 2009 to 5.156 million units, while prices fell from 2008 by 12.4 percent.

(Reporting by Corbett B. Daly; Editing by Neil Stempleman)