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The local housing market showed a healthy gain in the first month of 2016, with sales of existing homes growing nearly 16 percent in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties in January as compared to the same month a year ago.

“To get this kind of start is amazing,” Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors CEO Peter Novak said of the first month of the year.

Sales in the three counties totaled 550 in January, up 15.8 percent from the year-ago month, according to the GNIAR’s monthly report.

The figures include single-family homes, condominiums and attached townhomes and duplex units.

Nationally, year-over-year sales were up 11 percent, which was the largest gain since July 2013, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Novak said low mortgage rates help. Freddie Mac reported an average rate of 3.87 percent for a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage. “That’s appealing to a lot of people,” Novak said.

“And rents remain at an all-time high,” he noted, encouraging potential buyers to enter the market.

Median price changes varied locally, with Lake County showing a 4 percent increase, from $125,000 to $130,000; Porter County stable with a slight decline from $179,500 to $178,750; and LaPorte County jumping 31.8 percent from $110,000 to $145,000.

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Nationally, the median price was up 8.2 percent from January 2015, to $197,600.

“The housing market has shown promising resilience in recent months, but home prices are still rising too fast because of ongoing supply constraints,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the NAR,

Available inventory in January was 2.2 percent below a year ago nationally, the NAR reported.

“The spring buying season is right around the corner and current supply levels aren’t even close to what’s needed to accommodate the subsequent growth in housing demand,” Yun said. “Home prices ascending near or above double-digit appreciation aren’t healthy — especially considering the fact that household income and wages are barely rising.”

GNIAR’s membership includes realtors from seven counties, with Jasper, Newton, Starke and Pulaski rounding out the membership.

As a whole, the area saw a 15 percent increase in units sold, from 513 to 590, and a 9.7 percent increase in median price, from $127,500 to $139,900.

Even with supply constraints, Yun said the housing market is one of the U.S. economy’s strengths.

“Despite the global economic slowdown, the housing sector continues to recover and will likely help the U.S. economy avoid a recession,” said.

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Assistant Deputy Editor

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.