Crucial housing market metrics are beginning to look better to start the year, but the recent uptick may only be the result of a delayed foreclosure process.

At the end of January, most metro areas saw prices stabilizing, even picking up in some of the hardest hit areas like Miami and Las Vegas, according to Altos Research.

The average home price in Miami was $465,068, up more than 7% from the previous three months. In Vegas, where prices were cut by more than half during the downturn, prices increased 2% over the same period, cresting more than $140,000.

Inventory is also declining in these cities.

"In many markets, tight inventory of quality properties is another contributing factor keeping a floor on home prices this spring," Altos said.

In the 20 metro areas the company covers, inventory declined more than 14% from November to January.

Vegas, especially, was making progress. The city held fewer than 11,000 properties in its inventory at the end of last month, down more than 38% from November levels.

Declining inventories do not necessarily stem from higher home sales these days but may rather be a product of fewer REO hitting the market. Completed foreclosures in Nevada dropped 26% to 6,328 in 2011 from nearly 8,000 the year before, according to RealtyTrac.

From November to December alone, inventory declined in Vegas by 27%, a change Altos called "staggering."

With mortgage servicers putting the AG settlement behind them in January, the process may be rebooted soon, pushing inventories higher by the end of the year.

jprior@housingwire.com

@JonAPrior