WASHINGTON — People are buying homes at the weakest pace in 14 years.

Sales of previously occupied homes fell in June for a third straight month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.77 million, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday.

This year’s pace is lagging behind the 4.91 million homes sold last year — the fewest since 1997. In a healthy economy, people buy roughly 6 million homes per year.

Fewer first-time homebuyers are entering the market. Many can’t obtain a loan or meet larger down-payment requirements.

Another problem is that a growing number of contracts are being canceled before sales are finalized, many because of lower appraisals that are scuttling loans. And the slowdown in hiring is making people think twice about taking on extra debt.

High unemployment, millions of foreclosures and tighter credit are likely to keep people from buying homes in the second half of the year, economists say. Even low home prices and cheap mortgage rates are unlikely to draw buyers to the market.

“Given the state of the job market, and some reluctance among banks to lend and households to borrow, this lackluster pace of sales is not too surprising,” said Alistair Bentley, economist at TD Economics.

First-time homebuyers, who are critical to a strong and stable housing market, are responsible for only 31 percent of sales. That’s the lowest percentage since January 2010.

Normally, first-time buyers make up about half of all home sales. And their purchases of low- and moderately priced homes allow sellers to move up to pricier homes.

The sluggishness of the U.S. economy appears to be weighing heavily on the minds of would-be homebuyers, analysts say. In June, the economy created 18,000 net jobs, the fewest in nine months. The unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent.

Home sales have fallen in four of the past five years, forcing prices down in most markets. Declining home values have made people feel less wealthy, and as a result they are spending less.