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Western New York’s housing market continues to be both blessed and cursed by a falling inventory of homes for sale. Home owners’ hesitancy to put their houses on the market has made it harder to buy, while the scarcity has driven prices up.

New data from the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors shows home sales in Western New York surged in January from a year ago, along with prices, but the docket of available homes for sale plunged to its lowest level in at least two years.

The local trade group for real estate agents reported that completed sales rose 15 percent, to 622, from January 2012. But that’s still the fifth-slowest month in the last two years, and it’s down 23 percent from 806 in December.

Moreover, pending sales – those where a contract is signed, but the deal hasn’t closed – dropped 7 percent, to 637, indicating a possible slowdown in completed deals in the next couple of months. However, they were up 25 percent from December

Winter is typically a slower season, as colder temperatures and bad weather keep buyers inside; spring normally marks the start of sales activity.

But potential home sellers are holding back from the market, which could limit the options for buyers and cause them to wait longer to pick out a home.

New listings fell 9.8 percent, to 1,142, from a year ago. Over the last two years, only November and December were slower months for homeowners to put houses up for sale. As a result, the total inventory of homes for sale dropped 18.2 percent to 4,435.

That diminished inventory is driving up demand and pricing for homes that are on the market. The median sales price in January rose 6.2 percent, to $115,250, over the previous January. The average price rose 6.3 percent to $136,129. Sellers were getting 94.4 percent of their asking price.

On average, a home that sold was listed for just 77 days in January, down 10.5 percent. And the pace of sales means the current inventory would cover just 5.4 months of demand, down 25 percent from a year ago.

BNAR’s report includes data from arms-length sales represented by Realtors in the eight-county area of Western New York, plus some sales in Livingston and Monroe counties.

By contrast, other housing reports by national firms or groups focus just on the metropolitan area, which in the case of Buffalo-Niagara Falls includes just Erie and Niagara counties.

The National Association of Realtors, whose Realtor.com website is operated by Move.com, found the median listing price – not sales price – in Buffalo-Niagara Falls of $137,900 in January, down 1.42 percent from a year ago and down 1.15 percent from December.

The total inventory of available homes was 2,857, down 17.82 percent from a year ago, and down 9.02 percent from December. And homes spent 106 days on the market, or just over three months, down 1.85 percent from a year ago, but up 1.92 percent from December. The region ranked 105th among 146 metro areas, with lower prices than Albany, Rochester and Syracuse.

Nationwide, meanwhile, Realtor.com reported that the median list price rose 0.8 percent to $187,000, while the inventory fell 16.47 percent from a year ago and the median age of the inventory fell 9.24 percent to 108 days.

“If inventories remain low and list prices begin to rise over the next few months, as they did last year, conditions will be ripe for additional markets to appreciate in 2013,” said Steve Berkowitz, CEO of Move Inc.

And brokerage firm Re/MAX’s national housing report, which compiles an average of 52 metro areas, found that sales rose 9.1 percent in January, while prices rose 8 percent and the inventory fell 28.9 percent.

Mixed news in real estate market

Closings soar, pending sales fall as median price rises

30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.67 percent

Jan. 2013 Jan.2012 % change

Sold: 622 541 15.0%

Pending: 637 685 -7.0%

Median price: $115,250 $108,500 +6.2%

Days on market: 77 86 -10.5%

Source: Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors, Mortgage Bankers Association

email: jepstein@buffnews.com