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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 27, 2010

Home sales in U.S. West up 3% from last year

By Alex Veiga
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES Home sales inched about 3 percent higher in the Western region of the country last month, as homebuyers set out to take advantage of temporary government tax incentives and lock in still-low mortgage interest rates.

The modest annual increase benefited from an easy comparison to January 2009 sales, which cratered in the wake of the U.S. financial crisis.

Nationally, sales rose 7 percent from January last year, without adjusting for seasonal factors, the National Association of Realtors said yesterday. The median price was flat at $164,700.

In the West, the median price fell by nearly 6 percent to $203,400.

Home sales surged across the 13-state region for much of last year, powered largely by homebuyers and investors snapping up bank-owned properties in California, Arizona and Nevada.

Sales fell nationally around 33 percent from December and by nearly a quarter in the West, however.

"Sales have been dropping ... but they're not dropping as quickly as they have been in the rest of the U.S.," said Celia Chen, senior director at Moody's Economy.com.

Some of that decline was likely seasonal, but also a decline in the number of buyers racing to qualify for an $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit. Lawmakers ultimately extended the deadline to April 30 and added a $6,500 incentive for repeat buyers, taking some of the urgency out of the dealmaking.

Another factor for the sequential dip in sales was the inventory of homes for sale has been shrinking.

The supply of homes on the market in the West fell in January to 6.3 months from 8.7 months a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors.

In markets such as San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, the roster of available homes has tumbled 40 percent or more from where it was a year ago, according to The Associated Press-Re/Max Monthly Housing Report, also released yesterday.

"There is not enough inventory out there for the amount of buyers who want to get into the market," said Doug Sager, a ZipRealty agent who sells homes in Oakland and San Francisco.

Eight cities registered annual sales increases last month: Honolulu, Seattle, Albuquerque, N.M., Portland, Ore., Phoenix, Boise, Idaho, Las Vegas and Billings, Mont.

Honolulu posted the region's biggest sales gain 65 percent from a year ago. The city's median home price was essentially flat from last year at $418,500.