Sales of previously owned homes rose 11.5 percent year-over-year in January, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.05 million units, up from 4.53 million units in January 2008. January sales fell from a rate of 5.44 million in December 2009, the National Association of Realtors reported.

"Most of the completed deals in January were based on contracts in November and December. People who got into the market after the homebuyer tax credit was extended in November have only recently started to offer contracts, so it will take a couple months to close those sales," said Lawrence Yun, the association’s chief economist.

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