Banks have been slow to put foreclosed homes up for sale recently, possibly waiting for prices to improve further. While some expected a surge in inventory once home prices began to improve, that so-called "shadow supply," has yet to emerge. Prices are rising fast, up nearly 7 percent in December from a year ago in the nation's twenty largest real estate markets, according to the S&P/Case Shiller Index. But some would-be sellers may be waiting to see just how high prices move in the coming months, while millions of others are still trapped underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.
Mortgage applications to purchase a home fell 5 percent last week from the previous week and is now at its lowest level since the end of last year, according to a Mortgage Bankers Association weekly survey. Applications historically start to pick up around now, as President's Day weekend marks the unofficial start of the usually busy spring housing season.
(Read More: Homeowners Rise Above Water on Mortgages)
Regionally, the Realtors' Pending Home Sales Index in the Northeast rose 8.2 percent in January and is 10.5 percent higher than January 2012. In the Midwest the index increased 4.5 percent and is 17.7 percent above a year ago. Pending home sales in the South rose 5.9 percent and are 11.3 percent higher January 2012. In the West the index edged up 0.1 percent in January but is 1.5 percent below a year ago. Supplies of homes for sale are most limited in the West, where investors have been buying distressed properties in bulk.
(Read More: Jumbo Mortgages Are Back: Should You Be Worried?)