The Triangle housing market showed signs of recovery in January with sales, pending sales and showings all up compared to the same period a year ago.
But it continued to be a challenging environment for sellers from a price standpoint.
The average sales price of the homes that sold was $219,500, down 7 percent from a year ago, while 52 percent of all the completed transactions involved financial concessions from the seller, such as paying a buyer's closing costs.
That was up from 50 percent of sales a year ago and 34 percent in January 2009.
There were 926 homes sold in Durham, Johnston, Orange and Wake counties in January, up 7 percent from the same period a year ago, data from Triangle Multiple Listing Services show.
Pending sales were up 30 percent, and showings were up 10 percent.
"It's a great start" to the year, said Stacey Anfindsen, a Cary appraiser who analyzes MLS data for area real-estate agents. "If you think of all the headwinds there are against housing, I think it's pretty strong that you have that kind of activity in January when, in essence, a lot of people are telling you you're crazy if you want to buy a house."
Home sales activity in the early months of this year is expected to provide a better gauge of the overall health of the market because the influence of the federal homebuyer tax credits is waning.
The credits expired at the end of June 2010, but sales were depressed for about six months afterward. That led to wider than normal swings in the comparisons of 2011 sales activity to the same period in 2010.
The Triangle has seen a significant reduction in the inventory of homes on the market in recent months. The number for sale in January was 23 percent lower than during the same period last year.
Jeanna Reeves, an agent with Northside Realty in Raleigh, said she started off the year with 16 potential buyers.
"I never start off the new year with that many people looking," she said.
Many are renters, including one client who was surprised to see two homes she was looking at sell.
"It's a buyer's market, but you're not the only buyer out there," Reeves said of the current environment. "If (houses) are priced well and they look good, they will sell."
One concern is that the market could see an uptick in foreclosures, in part because of the recent $25 billion mortgage settlement. Many loan servicers slowed or halted foreclosure activities while they awaited a settlement over their handling of loan documents.
Although distressed properties currently account for only about 10 percent of active listings in the Triangle, an increase would put further downward pressure on prices.
Reeves said of late she has found that many of the banks respond slower to offers on foreclosed properties than they used to, waiting a week or longer to respond.
"They're just dragging their feet," she said. "It didn't use to take that long to get a foreclosure through. I know they've got a gazillion of them, and I don't know why they don't want them to just go away."