Sales of new homes dropped a steeper-than-expected 8.1% in June from the prior month, as the sector reported a sharp decline in demand in the Northeast.

Sales of new single-family homes came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 406,000, below the downwardly revised May rate of 442,000, according to the Commerce Department. Economists had predicted the rate would total 475,000 in June, according to a survey by Bloomberg News.

The June figure was about 12% below the same month last year.

Regionally, new-home sales slid 20% in the Northeast in June from the prior month. The Midwest and South each reported high-single-digit declines, while sales dropped 1.9% in the West.

The housing sector suffered a mixed performance earlier this year when severe weather diminished demand. That slowdown was worrisome heading into the key spring and summer home-buying season, though some metrics have suggested improvement. Builder confidence has been improving, and existing-home sales have climbed to an eight-month high, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Meanwhile, the median sales price for new homes sold last month totaled $273,000, compared to $282,600 in May, the Commerce Department said.