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The Boston Globe

Business

Mass. home sales jump 3 percent from a year ago

January uptick sparks hope after a sluggish 2011

More single-family homes were sold in Massachusetts last month compared with the previous January, fueling optimism in the real estate industry that the region’s sluggish housing market may finally be gaining momentum.

The 2,425 homes sold in January marked more than a 3 percent increase from the same period in 2011 and the highest January total since 2007, according to Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate.

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The uptick followed a sales drop in December, which capped the slowest year for single-family home sales in Massachusetts since 1990.

“Low prices are bringing buyers to the market,’’ said Timothy M. Warren Jr., chief executive of Warren Group. “Given low mortgage rates and steady prices, there’s hope this year may fare a bit better.’’

The sales increase for single-family homes was one of the few bright spots to be found in local and national housing statistics released yesterday.

Condominium sales remained slow in Massachusetts last month, dropping 4.3 percent compared with the same time last year, according to Warren Group.

Median prices for single-family homes also fell statewide in January, down 3.7 percent to $260,000, compared with the same month in 2011, Warren Group said. Condo prices remained largely steady - creeping up to $247,500, 1 percent higher than January last year.

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It also took longer to sell a house last month than it did during the previous January, according to the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, which also released data yesterday. On average, a single-family home sold in January had been on the market for 128 days, compared with 120 in January 2011. Condos sold had been on the market an average of 130 days in January, compared with 127 during the same month last year.

Trisha McCarthy, president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and a Newburyport broker, said real estate agents are encouraged by the January sales numbers as well as an increase in pending sales this month. But McCarthy said the housing market is still being hurt by the large number of foreclosures and short sales, which require lender approval because the seller’s mortgage balance exceeds the value of their house.

“The foreclosures and the short sales are definitely affecting everything we are seeing,’’ she said. “In my market, I am dealing with an awful lot of them.’’

The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices reported yesterday that nationwide housing values fell 4 percent over the last year, their lowest levels since the peak of the market in 2006. Boston-area home values fell 2.6 percent over the last year and 1.2 percent in December, compared with November. Still, Boston home values remain above their 2009 low, according to S&P/Case-Shiller, which is widely considered the best indicator of housing health because it measures repeat sales.

David M. Blitzer, chair of the index committee, said that improvements in the economy have not been enough to stabilize the national housing market. “If anything, it looks like we might have reentered a period of decline as we begin 2012,’’ he said.

Jenifer B. McKim can be reached at jmckim@globe.com.

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