Californians are moving through the backlogged inventory of homes at a faster rate in January, as house prices gained nationally in Q409, according to the California Association of Realtors (CAR). At the current pace of sales in California, it would take 5.8 months to move through the backlogged inventory of homes as of January 2010, down from 7.3 months a year earlier. Nationwide, the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) estimated the “shadow inventory” of bank-repossessed properties, as well as distressed mortgages facing foreclosure, will take nearly three years to clear at the current national sales rate. As for the total amount of homes in the shadow inventory, Amherst Securities places the total at 7m. The Royal Bank of Scotland found 2.7m, and First American CoreLogic counted 1.7m. Home sales in California decreased 10.6% from a year ago to more than 539,000 closed, single-family homes in January. But the median sales price climbed 15% from the year before to $287,440. “Many sales that closed escrow in January were on homes with offers accepted during the holiday season -- a time when many house hunters are first-time buyers,” said CAR president Steve Goddard. “First-time buyers typically purchase homes priced below an area’s median home price. Reflecting this, the percentage of homes priced under $500,000 increased to 77 percent of all sales in January, compared with 75 percent in December.” Goddard added that despite the year-to-year decline, sales stayed above the 500,000-unit threshold for the 17th consecutive month, holding at pre-peak levels from early last decade. The city of Newport Beach had the highest median home price at $1.1m. The largest increase in prices occurred in Redwood City, where the median price improved 43.2% from a year ago. Write to Jon Prior.