Homebuilder and mortgage lender Ryland Group (RYL) posted a first-quarter loss of $19.5 million, or 44 cents per share, as the company continued to grapple with falling home sales and a real estate market flooded with competing foreclosures and existing home sales. The firm reported a loss of $14.3 million, or 33 cents a share, a year earlier.? The builder, which also maintains its own mortgage finance group, failed to meet analyst expectations, with the average analyst expecting a loss of 31 cents a share. Ryland's loss deepened as sales fell about 30% to $168.6 million for the first quarter, down from $241.9 million a year earlier. Home sales fell 17.2%, with only 966 new orders reported in the first three months of 2011, compared to 1,167 a year earlier when the homebuyer tax credit was still in play coaxing buyers into the market. Ryland's results for the quarter were hurt by pretax charges on inventory, valuation adjustments and other write-offs for the period. The company's deepening loss comes at a time when homebuilders are struggling to attract new buyers. Moody's Investors Service recently revised the ratings outlook for PulteGroup Inc. (PHM) from positive to stable over concerns the homebuilder's operating performance and the industry's return to a more stable environment will take more than a year. Write to Kerri Panchuk.