(Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

The Washington-area real estate market in January made steady gains in sales, inventory and prices, according to a report released Tuesday, building on improvements seen the month before at the end of what had largely been a stagnant year.

Typically, January is one of the slowest months of the year. But last month, according to analytics firm RealEstate Business Intelligence (RBI), a subsidiary of Rockville-based multiple-listing service MRIS, the market showed across-the-board progress.

Pending or under-contract sales increased 6.2 percent from 12 months before, the report said. During that same period, closed sales, median sales price and active inventory rose 4.5 percent, 4.1 percent and 17.9 percent respectively.

(RealEstate Business Intelligence)

For most of last year, the Washington-area market was largely flat. But the new report builds on some improvements first seen in December, the only year-over-year sales gain in 2014, and offers evidence that the market is gaining momentum leading into the spring home-buying season.

“This likely means sales activity could exceed the 2014 levels in the spring,” said Corey Hart, RBI’s senior product manager who wrote the report. “We’re not predicting astronomical gains, but steady gains. Seeing contract activity pick up 11 percent in December and 6 percent in January is a leading indicator that sales activity into February and into March will be healthy increases.”

The report has good news for sellers and buyers.

(RealEstate Business Intelligence)

For sellers, the median sales price during the 12-month period ending in January increased to $385,000 from $370,000, up 4.1 percent. Closed sales rose to 2,554 from 2,444, up 4.5 percent. Last month, there were 3,720 pending sales, 216 more than the year before.

For buyers, inventory, which had fallen sharply a few years ago, continued to rebound. There were 7,949 active listings, 1,204 more than the year before. There were also 1.7 percent more new listings.

Buyers were also able to win a slight negotiating edge over pricing – sellers were getting 95.7 percent of their original asking price, down from 96.6 percent the year before. Houses sold in an average of 65 days – up from 55 days a year ago – perhaps spurring sellers to lower their prices to close the deal.

“It’s an expensive area — more expensive homes sometimes don’t have as much demand as the more affordable segment,” Hart said. “It could be there are fewer buyers competing for those higher-price segments that we see.”

(RealEstate Business Intelligence)

Among the jurisdictions RBI tracks in its monthly report, Fairfax City and Loudoun and Montgomery counties were the only communities to see a drop in their median sales price.

Prices rose 46 percent in Falls Church City, but the small sample size – nine – could be a factor.

Frederick County, Md., also had a big gain, jumping 21.7 percent to $280,000 last month from $230,000 in January 2014. Prices in Howard County rose 13.6 percent to $375,000 last month from $330,000 in January 2014.

Prices rose 6.9 percent, to $63,750, in Alexandria City and 5.3 percent, to $495,000, in the District.

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