WASHINGTON - Americans bought fewer homes in May than April, suggesting a modest recovery in the housing market could be choppy.

The National Association of Realtors says sales of previously occupied homes dropped 1.5 percent in May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.55 million units.

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Sales have risen 9.6 percent from a year ago, evidence that home sales are slowly improving. Still, the pace is below the 6 million that economists consider healthy.

The median price for a home sold in May was $182,600, up 7.9 percent from a year ago. It was also the highest since June 2010 when sales were temporarily boosted by buyers rushing to take advantage of an expiring tax break.