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Homes were spending less time with for-sale signs on the front lawns, but were not selling for any more than they did last January, according to figures from the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors.

"It might sell quicker, but the economy is not where you have prices appreciating yet," said Michael P. McDonough, the association's president.

In January, 35 percent of homes sold in less than a month, compared with 29 percent the previous January. And a smaller percentage of homes were on the market between one and four months -- 37 percent this January compared with 46 percent last January.

However, about a quarter of all homes sold were hard-to-sell homes, those on the market for more than four months.

Despite brisk sales and low interest rates, the number and price of homes remains virtually unchanged from this time last year.

Area real estate agents sold 639 single-family homes in January at a median price of $80,500 -- meaning half the homes sold for more, half sold for less. The volume and price are roughly the same as the 622 homes sold at this time last year for a median price of $80,000.

However, the number of sales is a substantial improvement from January 1998 when real estate agents only sold 470 homes. The figures include distressed sales such as foreclosures and government sales.

Real estate agents are expecting prices to rise with interest rates low and fewer homes on the market than at any time in the last three years. Already many report several buyers bidding on the same home and some homes going for more than the list price.

"It's going to take three or six months to be able to see any change in the numbers," McDonough said.

More information about area home sales is available on the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors' Web site at

Nationally, new-homes sales plummeted by 10.9 percent in January, the biggest drop in seven years, as Americans' worries about the nation's economy overwhelmed the attraction of cheaper mortgage rates.

The Commerce Department reported today that sales of new single-family homes declined last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 921,000. That followed a 14.9 percent rise in January, which pushed sales to a record monthly rate of 1.03 million.

January's 10.9 percent drop was the biggest since January 1994, when new-home sales plunged by 23.8 percent.

The performance was much weaker than the 5.4 percent decline many analysts were forecasting.

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