The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage. LA JOLLA, Calif. ( DQNews) -- Phoenix-area January home sales rose to the highest level for that month in five years as several price measures trended higher again on a year-over-year basis, a real estate information service reported. A total of 7,123 new and resale houses and condos closed escrow during January in the combined Maricopa-Pinal counties metro area. That was down 17.9% from the month before but up 3.2% from a year earlier, according to San Diego-based DataQuick, which tracks real estate trends nationally via public property records.
Total January home sales fell 3.1% short of the average number sold in January since 1994, but that was only because new-home sales remained very low. Resale volume in January was 17.5% higher than the January average, and it was the highest for that month since January 2006. January sales of newly built homes rose 31.3% year over year, to the highest level for a January since 2009. But this January's new-home sales were still 66% below average for the month. January home sales rose year over year in most price segments above $100,000. The number of new and resale homes that sold for less than $100,000 fell 7.3% from a year earlier, while sales between $100,000 and $200,000 increased 3.3%. Deals in the $200,000 to $600,000 range rose 9% from a year earlier, while above $800,000 sales increased 3.6 %. The median price paid in January for all new and resale houses and condos sold in the Phoenix region was $127,500. That was down 1.2% from the month before but up 7.1% from a year earlier. January marked the second month in a row in which the overall median sale price rose year over year. (In December 2011 the Phoenix area's median posted a 7.5 annual gain.) The median price paid for resale single-family detached houses in January rose to $125,900, up 0.7% from the prior month and up 5% from a year earlier, marking the second consecutive month to post a year-over-year gain (the December 2011 resale house median rose 4.2% from a year earlier). The $78,500 median resale price for condos in January dipped slightly month to month but rose 9% from a year earlier -- the third consecutive month with a year-over-year gain.
Buyers paying cash represented 45.6% of all January sales, up from 41.0 % the month before and down from 46% a year earlier. January's cash buyers paid a median $97,700, up from $94,900 the month before and up 10% from $88,854 a year earlier. Distressed property sales dropped to 52.1% of all January resale activity -- the lowest level for any month since the figure was 48.2% in June 2008. Distressed sales are made up of sales of foreclosed properties, as well as "short sales," where the sale price falls short of what was owed on the property. Foreclosure resales, defined as homes that had been foreclosed on in the prior 12 months, fell to 36.3% of January resales -- the lowest level since May 2008. January's figure was down from 37.7% the month before and 54.5% a year earlier. The peak level for foreclosure resales was 66.2% in March 2009. Short sales represented an estimated 15.8% of January's resale activity, down from 17.2% the prior month but up from an estimated 12.9% a year ago.