Fewer listings, winter storms and extended holidays restrained housing activity around Western Washington during January, but brokers still recorded strong sales and a definite uptick in business toward the end of the month.

According to the latest report from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, brokers reported 5,385 closed sales in January, up 7.9 percent from the same month a year ago when members reported 4,990 closings.

The median sales price for last month’s completed transactions (including single-family homes and condominiums) rose from $205,000 to $220,000 areawide, for a gain of 7.3 percent.

On average, it took about three days longer to complete a sale compared to a year ago. For last month’s closed sales, the average time on the market was 75 days. Homes in Thurston County sold at the fastest pace, averaging 65 days, followed by King County sales at 68 days.

A bigger worry, according to some MLS members, is inventory. Brokers added 9,610 new listings across a 14-county market area during January, or 21 percent fewer properties than the year-ago total of 12,169 listings.

The volume of active listings is down about 12 percent from a year ago. At month end, MLS members represented 23,703 properties, which compares to 26,998 residences offered for sale at this time last year (down 12.2 percent).

MLS director Ken Bacon, the managing broker at Windermere Real Estate/S.C.A. in Redmond, attributes the narrower selection of listings to a combination of factors, including fewer job transfers out of this market and some mistaken notions by prospective sellers.

Bacon also reports a noticeable increase in listing activity the past few weeks, but said he still expects 2004’s inventory of active listings to be smaller than last year, which could lead to rising prices. “Look for bigger price increases if inventory levels don’t pick up,” he suggests.

Northwest Multiple Listing Service encompasses 1,350 member brokerages with around 1,500 offices and 15,400 sales associates. The MLS covers most of Western Washington from its Kirkland headquarters and several satellite offices.

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