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Home sales activity in Western New York dipped slightly in December, as completed transactions fell and fewer additional homes were put on the market for sale, but the tightening inventory continues to drive prices up.

According to the latest data from the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors, 791 homes changed hands in the last month of 2012, down 0.9 percent from 798 in December 2011, but up from two years ago.

But pending sales – where a contract has been signed but not finalized – rose 5.5 percent from a year ago and 15 percent from two years ago to 500 sales, though that’s still the lowest point of any month in 2012. And for all of 2012, activity was up strongly, as closed sales increased 8 percent to 9,522 from 8,805, while pending sales jumped 11.3 percent to 9.950 from 8,939.

That, in turn, put upward pressure on home prices, which continued to rise in December. The median price rose 3.4 percent to $124,000, while the average price was up 3.6 percent to $142,251. For the full year, the median had risen 4.3 percent to $121,000, while the average was up 5.2 percent to $143,860. All were also up from two years ago. And sellers were getting 95 percent of what they asked for.

“It was largely a year of recovery for housing across our nation,” BNAR said in its monthly report. “But there’s more work to be done.”

However, it’s getting harder for buyers to find a home, as sellers are hanging back. New listings available for sale fell 13 percent in December, from 733 to 637 – the lowest point for any month in at least two years. For all of 2012, new listings dipped 2.5 percent to 16,376, and they were down 8 percent since 2010. As a result, the available inventory plunged 19 percent in December to 4,471 from 5,499 a year ago, marking the lowest point in at least two years.

And the pace of activity is picking up. Houses are spending 69 days on the market on average, down 10 percent from 77 a year ago. At that rate, the market can only sustain itself for 5.4 months, down 27 percent from 7.4 months in December 2011.

“Economic growth is on an upward trend, and several prominent housing indices continue to showcase market turnaround,” the real estate group said in its report.

“Momentum is on our side, though it won’t necessarily be fast, consistent or universal. But after five or six challenging years, it’s a welcomed change of pace,” it added.

A separate nationwide report issued Monday by the National Association of Realtors found that prices for single-family homes climbed in almost 88 percent of U.S. cities – including in Buffalo Niagara – in the fourth quarter, as the housing recovery broadened.

The median sales price increased from a year earlier in 133 of 152 metropolitan areas measured, NAR said. In the third quarter, 120 areas had gains.

In Buffalo Niagara, the median sales price for the fourth quarter rose 8.2 percent from a year ago to $128,200, although it was down from $136,200 in the third quarter. The local gain was slightly less than the 10 percent increase nationwide.

“The U.S. housing recovery showed no signs of slowing in the final stages of 2012,” said Paul Diggle of Capital Economics Ltd. in London.

At the end of the fourth quarter, 1.82 million existing homes were available for sale across the country, 22 percent fewer than a year earlier, according to the Chicago-based Realtors group.

The national median price for an existing single-family home was $178,900 in the fourth quarter, up 10 percent from the same period last year. That was the biggest year-over-year gain since 2005, according to the Realtors group.

The best-performing metro area was Phoenix, where prices increased 34 percent from a year earlier. Prices rose 31 percent in the Detroit region, and 28 percent in San Francisco.

The Kingston, N.Y., area had the biggest decline, with the median selling price falling 7.9 percent in the quarter.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report. email: jepstein@buffnews.com