WASHINGTON — Existing home sales rose 0.4% to a seasonally adjusted 4.92 million-unit rate in January, following a revised 4.90 million rate in December, the National Association of Realtors announced Thursday.

The December sales rate was originally reported as a 4.94 million pace.

The sales pace was a bit above the estimate of economists polled by Thomson Reuters. They predicted a 4.90 million rate for January.

The rate is a 9.1% increase from January 2012. The sales rate has now been above the previous year levels for 19 consecutive months, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said.

Sales increased 4.8% in the Northeast, 1% in the South, and 3.6% in the Midwest, but dropped 5.7% in the West.

The median sales price stood at $173,600, a 2% drop from the previous month but a 12.3% gain from a year ago.

The inventory levels dipped 4.9% from the previous month to 1.74 million existing homes, representing a 4.2-month supply at the current pace and the smallest inventory since an inventory of 1.71 million homes in December 1999. Inventory was down 25.3% from the January 2012 level, when it was a 6.2-month supply.

Yun said inventory constraints continue to be a pressing factor, particularly in western states, such as Arizona and California.

"The West region is really constrained," he said.

Yun said only the construction of new homes could improve the condition, but that federal regulations and general uncertainty could be hampering the ability of banks, particularly the small community banks that have historically driven the market, to do that work. Roughly two-thirds of the Dodd-Frank Act remains unimplemented, contributing to the uncertainty, Yun said.

"Only the home builders can truly relieve inventory," said Yun. "Perhaps one needs to revisit some aspects of Dodd-Frank."

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