A total of 197,641 new mortgage contracts were signed last year in Spain, down 27.8 percent from 2012 and the lowest amount in the past five years, the National Statistics Institute said.

In December, 12,329 mortgage contracts were signed, down 30.1 percent from the same month of 2012 and 11.5 percent lower than in November.

That result marked the 44th consecutive monthly drop.

Nevertheless, the 2013 figures indicate that the rate of decline has slowed, since mortgage activity fell 33 percent in 2012 and 32.8 percent in 2011.

The average mortgage loan in 2013 was 99,838 euros ($136,480), down 3.5 percent from 2012.

Spain's decade-long housing boom began turning to bust just months before the global financial meltdown of 2008, making the ensuing recession even more severe than in other European countries. The bursting of Spain's long-building real-estate bubble left the country saddled with a large stock of unsold homes. The sector has since remained stagnant, however, due in part to sky-high unemployment and Spaniards' difficulty in obtaining bank loans. EFE