BY THE NUMBERS
$126,900 -- Median price of Chattanooga houses sold in January, down 4 percent from a year ago.
$154,700 -- Nationwide median price of homes sold in January, down 2 percent from a year ago.
327 -- Number of houses sold by Chattanooga Realtors in January, up 2.8 percent from a year ago.
4.57 million -- Annual pace of U.S. home sales based upon January results, up 4.3 percent from a year ago
Sources: Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors, National Association of Realtors
Home sales in the Chattanooga area rose in January to the best level for the month since before the Great Recession.
The Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors reported that housing sales began 2012 up 2.8 percent over the year-ago period, marking the best January since 2008.
"There's good reason to feel a strong sense of optimism about the trending sales numbers we're seeing this month," Chattanooga Realtors' President Mark Hite said Wednesday in announcing the January results. "My sense of it is that the next 12 months might finally begin to show the noticeable recovery we've all been waiting for over the past four years."
Despite the sales gain, however, the median price of houses sold in Chattanooga last month was still $5,350 cheaper than a year ago and 18 percent below the U.S. median price. Home prices continued to be depressed by the high share of houses in foreclosure, which comprised nearly 40 percent of January's sales in the Chattanooga market.
The average time on the market to sell a house in Chattanooga rose to 151 days, or two weeks longer than in the same period a year ago.
The overall inventory of homes available for sale was down 19.5 percent from a year ago, however.
"The year-over-year increase in the number of units sold is welcomed news for home owners who are considering selling residential real estate," Russ Elliott, president of the Chattanooga Area Multiple Listing Service, said in a statement.
Nationwide, Realtors enjoyed an even bigger gain in home sales.
The National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes rose 4.3 percent in January and inventories fell to nearly seven-year lows, as lower prices, unusually warm weather and an improving economy all lifted demand.
"Things are genuinely improving," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the Realtors' group. "Maybe we are seeing household formation popping out."
That could mean children moving out of their parents' homes as they got a job, he said.
Investors accounted for 23 percent of homes purchased last month as investors competed with first-time home buyers for distressed sales.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...