Utah home sales increased for the eighth consecutive month in January, up more than 6 percent compared to the prior year, according to a new report from the Utah Association of Realtors. Utah Realtors sold 120 more homes this year than they did last January, closing 1,985 transactions. In fact, this was the best January in five years in terms of homes sold.

Among the more populated areas, sales were particularly strong in Salt Lake, Uintah and Davis counties where sales were up 30, 29 and 6 percent, respectively.

“The Utah real estate market began the new year in much the same way as the prior year concluded: Home sales were up, housing inventory was down and market fundamentals continued to improve,” said Utah Association of Realtors President Lori Chapman. “The spring buying season is also looking like it will be stronger than last year.”

The number of contracts signed to buy homes in January increased 20 percent, signaling a likely rise in February closed sales. The number of January pending sales has not been higher since 2007.

Another positive sign is the fact that the number of homes available for sale is declining. In January, inventory fell 24 percent compared to the prior year.

“The falling inventory is good news because excess supply has been one reason we’ve seen drops in home prices,” Chapman said.

January inventories typically rise following the holiday season, but this year bucked that trend with inventories falling about 3 percent from December levels. With about 20,000 homes listed for sale at the end of January, this is the lowest inventory since February 2007.

The Utah Association of Realtors estimates that at the current pace of sales, it would take 7.1 months to clear the entire inventory, the lowest level since July 2007, before home prices began falling. This indicator has seen significant improvement since last year when it stood at 10.4 months.

The lower inventories can be attributed to the pickup in home sales and a decline in new listings. The number of newly listed properties fell 12 percent in January. Over the past 12 months, new listings are down an average of about 13 percent.

The median price was $166,000, down about 7 percent compared to January 2010.

“One reason for the decline is the fact that the share of lower-priced homes being sold is higher than it was last year,” Chapman said. “When a lower-priced mix of homes is compared to a share of more expensive houses, the comparisons can be skewed.”

During the 12 months ending in January 2012, homes priced $150,000 and below accounted for 39 percent of all home sales. The year earlier that share was only 30 percent. Over the past year, sales of homes priced $150,000 and below have soared, rising nearly 40 percent. At the same time, sales declined in each of the higher price ranges. 

For all sales, sellers are receiving more of their original asking prices. In January, sellers received about 91 percent of their original list prices compared to 89 percent during the same period a year earlier.

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