Existing-home sales increase in January

Existing-home sales estimates began 2011 on a positive note: up 2.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.36 million. That's up from a downwardly revised 5.22 million in December.

According to the estimate from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) released Wednesday morning, existing-home sales are 5.3% ahead of the 5.09 million place in January 2010.

"The uptrend in home sales is consistent with improvements in the economy and jobs, which are helping boost consumer confidence,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “The extremely favorable housing affordability conditions are a big factor, but buyers have been constrained by unnecessarily tight credit. As a result, there are abnormally high levels of all-cash purchases, along with rising investor activity.”

The housing inventory situation is improving, according to the report. Total housing inventory at the end of January fell 5.1% to 3.38 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 7.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down from an 8.2-month supply in December. The inventory supply is at the lowest level since December 2009 when there was a 7.3-month supply.

Meanwhile, the prices of homes are slipping. The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $158,800 in January, down 3.7% from January 2010, according to the NAR. Distressed homes edged up to a 37% market share in January from 36% in December. The figure stood at 38% in January 2010.