SALT LAKE CITY — Utah home sales climbed for the eighth consecutive month in January, up more than 6 percent from a year ago, according to a new report from the Utah Association of Realtors.
UAR reported that 120 more homes sold this year than in January 2011, closing 1,985 transactions — the highest total in five years.
Activity was especially strong in Salt Lake, Uintah and Davis counties, where sales were up 30 percent, 29 percent and 6 percent, respectively.
Realtor Janet Marroquin, with Sold By an Angel Real Estate, said the market for first-time home buyers has become increasingly competitive in recent months.
"With my buyers … we've been in multiple buyer situations, (making) it hard to get a property," Marroquin said. "We've been fighting for properties now."
She attributed the overall increase in sales to historically low interest rates combined with relatively low home prices statewide. Properties in the $150,000 to $200,000 range seem be selling the most, Marroquin noted.
"Those are the homes that are going to move very, very quickly," she said. Houses in the $300,000 to $650,000 range also are selling better of late, Marroquin added.
"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 jumped 20 percent, the report said, signaling a possible rise in February closed sales.
Marroquin and Chapman agreed that another positive sign was the fact that the number of homes available for sale has declined. In January, inventory fell 24 percent compared with the prior year, Chapman said.
"The falling inventory is good news because excess supply has been one reason we've seen drops in home prices," she said.
January inventories typically rise following the holiday season, but this year bucked that trend with inventories falling about 3 percent from December levels, the report stated. The approximately 20,000 homes listed for sale at the end of January represented the lowest inventory since February 2007.
The Utah Association of Realtors estimates a 7.1 month supply of inventory in the current market — 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, Chapman said.
The lower inventories can be attributed to an increase in home sales and a decline in new listings, the report said.
The number of newly listed properties fell 12 percent in January, with new listings down an average of about 13 percent over the past 12 months.
The median home price fell 7 percent since January 2010 to $166,000.
"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 January 2012, homes priced $150,000 and below accounted for 39 percent of all home sales. Over the past year, sales of homes priced $150,000 and below have soared, rising nearly 40 percent, while declining in each of the higher price ranges, the report said.
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 with 89 percent during the same period a year earlier.
"If homes are priced competitively, we're seeing multiple offers on a lot of those properties," Chapman said. "There is not as much selection, and good properties are appealing and … going very quickly."