Monthly for-sale home inventory increased in January for the first time in 18 months, according to a report by national real estate brokerage company ZipRealty.

The number of homes for sale increased 2.9 percent from December, an additional 15,818 homes, to a total of 567,265 single-family homes and condominiums listed in 27 metropolitan areas across the country. December saw 2009’s greatest fall in month-to-month inventory, down 4.83 percent.

Inventory in January was down 22.3 percent year-over year, however, with 163,131 fewer homes listed than in January 2009.

"Inventory is starting to increase, but it’s still really low. People typically wait for the spring market, but inventory is low and interest is high because of the tax credit, so there’s an opportunity for people to put their house on the market before the spring, ahead of the competition," said Leslie Tyler, ZipRealty’s vice president.

Tyler attributed the month-to-month inventory rise to seasonality.

"Last January was right after the Wall Street meltdown. There was a lot of financial insecurity, so there was no bump, but usually there is (in January)."

California markets saw the highest month-to-month jumps in inventory, up 10.6 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area, 8 percent in Orange County, 6.5 percent in San Diego, and 4.5 percent in Los Angeles, ZipRealty reported.

Baltimore and Miami were the only two metro areas tracked by ZipRealty to see month-to-month decreases in inventory, 1.9 percent in the former and 0.05 percent in the latter.

All 27 metro areas registered year-over-year shrinkage, with the California markets and Las Vegas almost halving their inventory totals. Inventory in San Diego plunged 48.1 percent compared to January 2009. Inventory in Las Vegas fell 47.5 percent year-over-year; dropped 45.5 percent in Los Angeles; and was down 45.4 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Median home list prices stayed relatively flat last month with a 0.97 percent, or $2,521, decrease from December and a 1 percent, or $2,695, decrease from January 2009.

Of the inventory left as of January 31, between 29.9 and 49.9 percent of the homes in each metro area had seen price reductions.

The National Association of Realtors, too, has reported a general downward trend in for-sale inventory — the inventory of for-sale existing homes slipped 6.6 percent from November to December, to a suppy of 7.2 months at that month’s sales pace. A supply of six months is considered to represent a rough equilibrium in supply and demand, while a larger supply can indicate a buyer’s market.


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