Home sales in the West showed modest gains in January, as buyers latched onto government tax incentives and still-low interest rates.

The modest annual increase benefited from an easy comparison to January 2009 sales, which cratered in the wake of the U.S. financial crisis.

Nationally, sales rose 7percent from January last year, without adjusting for seasonal factors, the National Association of Realtors said Friday. The median price was flat at $164,700.

In the West, the median price fell by nearly 6percent to $203,400.

"We're starting to see more bank-owned properties trickle back into the market," said Tom Adams, owner of Century 21 Adams & Barnes in Glendora and Monrovia. "They had been held back by various government moratoriums and the changing of some rules."

Adams said the San Gabriel Valley market is hungry for more homes.

"We're seeing so much competition. ... There's so much demand out there," he said. "Most of the homes are being purchased by investors or people who have positioned themselves to take advantage of the market."

Full-cash offers, he said, have also become more common these days.

"People with limited cash are being beat out at almost every turn - particularly the FHA buyers," he said. "FHA loans have stricter rules the seller has to live by regarding the appraisal and the property's condition."

If a home is priced competitively, Adams said, a seller will often get 10 or more offers.

"There is a lot of frustration on the part of buyers," he said. "And we're seeing sellers countering for all the buyers to come back with their best offers - regardless of what the home appraised for. It's pushing a lot of people out."

Earlier this week, figures from the California Association of Realtors showed that Los Angeles County's median home price fell 6percent in January to $332,270 compared with the previous month. But January's median price was up 9percent from a year earlier.

California's median price likewise fell 6.3percent to $287,440 in January from the previous month. But that was up 15percent from January 2009, CAR reported.

The supply of homes on the market in the West fell in January to 6.3months from 8.7 months a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors.

"California sales were down due to lower inventory in the lower price ranges," Lawrence Yun, the trade group's chief economist, said Friday.