— Tradition broke last month for local real estate agents, many of whom benefited from an increase in the sales of existing homes and the prices they commanded.

January is typically one of the slowest months for home sales, but sales in the Rock County market last month were 6 percent ahead of those posted in January 2012, according to the South Central Wisconsin Multiple Listing Service.

The average sales price was $108,741, a whopping 28 percent increase over the same month last year.

“January is normally slow, but it wasn't last month for us,” said Colleen Nelson, president of the Rock-Green Realtors Association and a real estate agent at FirstWeber Realtors in Janesville. “Our market is increasing quite a bit, and just about everything seems to be moving in the right direction.”

Nelson said February—also a typically slow month—is going well, too.

“I think we will be way past last February's numbers,” she said. “I know I will, and that's the sense I get from talking to other Realtors in our office.”

Nelson said one segment of the market that local agents would like to see improve is the number of active listings.

They're down, Nelson said, particularly in the $100,000 to $160,000 price range. Those homes are in demand among people who want to downsize or first-time buyers.

“It's kind of frustrating because we have buyers coming out of the woodwork and a limited supply of listings,” she said.

Since the Great Recession, many sellers have been reluctant to list their homes, fearing they'd take a bath in a market saturated with foreclosures and other distressed sales.

That situation continues to improve, Nelson said, adding that sellers—though still somewhat hesitant—are warming to the market.

“Once they see what they can list their property for and then what they can turn around buy for, they're a little more receptive,” she said. “There really are a lot of great deals out there on some very nice properties.

“Mortgage rates are still favorable, and it's a great time to invest in a home.”

Statewide, the mood is similar.

The Wisconsin Realtors Association reported that a 19-month trend of double-digit growth continued in January as existing homes sales grew 18.3 percent compared to January 2012.

“The month of January is typically the low-water mark in terms of Wisconsin home sales volume,” said Renny Diedrich, chairman of the organization's board. “To see existing home sales continue the strong pace established in 2012 bodes well for the spring when the market heats up.”

All regions in the state were up in January. The strongest growth was in the north and central regions, where sales grew at 31.6 and 28.2 percent, respectively.

“It's interesting that the fastest-growing regions are areas with strong vacation home markets since these markets were especially hard hit during the recession,” Diedrich said.

The south central region includes Rock and 11 other counties. It also posted a strong January with the number of sales up 17.7 percent and the median price increasing by 13.5 percent.

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