02/14/2014 10:47 EST | Updated 04/16/2014 05:59 EDT

Home sales fall in January but prices up 9.5% over last year

The number of home sales across Canada fell 3.3 per cent between December and January but was up slightly over a year ago, along with prices, which rose 9.5 per cent year-on-year, the Canadian Real Estate Association said Friday. 

"This marks the fifth straight monthly decline and leaves activity 9.1 per cent below the peak reached in August 2013," CREA said in a press release. 

Sales were down in January in more than 60 per cent of local markets across Canada, including the Greater Toronto Area, Vancouver and much of southern Ontario.

CREA president Laura Leyser said that in some regions where the winter has been harsher than usual, the weather may have played a role in keeping people out of the real estate market.

"A number of buyers likely waited out January’s deep freeze before going house hunting, particularly where I’m from in Southern Ontario," she said. "It’s a perfect example of how a local influence that may not be shared by other markets can factor into national sales activity. Like the weather, all real estate is local."

The Polar Vortex that swept through parts of the country in January slowed home resales and new construction, said CREA chief economist Gregory Klump.

Sales up in Calgary, B.C.

The number of newly listed homes was up 0.2 per cent over December, and nationally, the real estate market had 6.4 months of inventory, about the same as at the end of December when it was 6.3 months. Inventory represents how long it would take to liquidate the current supply of homes at the current rate of sales activity.

Fewer than half the real estate markets in Canada saw a year-in year increase in sales in January, with sales up in most of British Columbia and in Calgary but down in southern Ontario, Quebec and the East Coast. Nationwide, sales activity, not seasonally adjusted, was up 0.4 per cent over January 2013.

"We’ll be keeping a close eye on February’s numbers for signs of a rebound in southern Ontario, where sales reflected deferred home purchases due to cold weather rather than home buyers getting cold feet," he said.

The average price of a home in Canada was $388,553 in January, a rise of 9.5 per cent over a year ago. The relatively large price boost is because there was a drop in prices and a slowdown in sales in some of the country's most expensive markets a year earlier, which brought down the national average home price, CREA said.

The real estate association also compiles a composite home price index which, it says, is not as affected by sales activity as the average price. That index showed a year-on-year rise in prices of 4.83 per cent. All property categories saw prices rise, with two-storey single family homes registering the biggest gain at 5.57 per cent, followed by one-storey single family homes at 5.32 per cent, townhouse/row units at 3.94 per cent and apartment units at 3.35 per cent.

Calgary and Greater Toronto Area saw the biggest price gains — 8.98 per cent and 7.06 per cent, respectively,