Home sales in the Vancouver area declined by 22 per cent last year even as the average price held relatively steady, declining a little over two per cent compared to the level seen at the end of 2011.

The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver said Thursday that after peaking in May at $625,100, the average price of a home in the region declined 5.8 per cent to $590,800 by the end of the year. That's 2.3 per cent lower than the average price seen in December 2011.

The board strips out the price of the most expensive homes in calculating its monthly average, the December index.

"For much of 2012 we saw a collective hesitation on the part of buyers and sellers in the Greater Vancouver housing market," the board's president Eugen Klein said. "This behavior was reflected in lower-than-average home sale activity and modest fluctuations in home prices."

A total of 25,032 Vancouver-area homes changed hands last year, a 22.7 decline from the 32,387 seen in 2011. Last year's decline was actually 25.7 per cent lower than the 10-year average of home sales in the region. 

Earlier this week, official data from the crown corporation charged with the industry showed that the assessed value of homes in some of B.C.'s priciest neighbourhoods, including Victoria, parts of Vancouver Island, Whistler, and downtown Vancouver condominiums, dropped from last year's level.

"We saw home prices come down a bit during the latter half of the year," Klein said. "During the same period, we saw fewer home sales and listings."