Existing home sales rose 2.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.36 million in January from a downwardly revised 5.22 million in December, the National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday.

The gain put sales 5.3% ahead of the pace of January 2010, the first time in seven months that sales rose on a year-over-year basis. Wall Street was expecting a rate of 5.21 million.

Prices, however, declined 3.7% year-over-year to $158,800 in January.Distressed homes edged up to a 37% market share in January from 36% in December and down from 38% in January 2010.

The share of first-time buyers fell to 29% from 33% in December and 40% in January 2010, investors accounted for 23% of purchases, up from 20% in December and 17% in January 2010, and all-cash sales rose to 32% in January from 29% in December and 26% in January 2010. It was the highest level of cash sales since NAR began reporting this data in 2008, when the share was less than half what it was in January.

Inventory of unsold homes fell 5.1% to 3.38 million, a 7.6-month supply, down 8.2-months in December. The supply was the lowest level since December 2009's 7.3-months.

Single-family home sales rose 2.4% to a pace of 4.69 million from 4.58 million in December, up 4.9% from January last year. The median existing single-family home price fell 2.7% to $159,400.

Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 4.7% to a pace of 670,000, 7.9% ahead of the pace a year earlier, with the median price down 10.2% to $154,900.

Regionally, sales in the Northeast fell 4.6% to an annual pace of 830,000 and were 1.2% below January 2010. The median price in the Northeast was $236,500, a 4% year-to-year decline. The Midwest rose 1.8% to a rate of 1.14 million, up 3.6% from January 2010, with the median price down 3.2% to $126,300. The South was up 3.6% to an annual pace of 2.02 million, up 8.0% from January 2010, with the median price down 2.1% to $136,600. percent from a year ago. The West rose 7.9% to a pace of 1.37 million, 7.0% above January 2010, with the median price down 5.7% to $193,200.