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Home prices continued rising at a steady clip in January

It is another sign that 2016 will offer more of the same in the housing market: tight inventory leading to rising prices and sales volatility.

The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, covering the entire nation, rose 5.4% in the 12 months ended in January, slightly greater than a 5.3% increase in December.

The 10-city index gained 5.1% from a year earlier and the 20-city index gained 5.7% year-over-year.

Economists expected a 5.8% increase in the 20-city index.

After years of volatility, home-price growth appears to have stabilized at an annual rate of close to 5%. But the pace of sales has fluctuated, in part because of a lack of homes for sale and because high prices have started to scare some buyers.

The hottest markets in the country, primarily on the West Coast, continued to show double-digit price gains, with Portland reporting an 11.8% year-over-year jump, Seattle showing a 10.7% gain, and San Francisco prices advancing 10.5%.

Economists expect home-price growth to moderate in 2016, as buyers begin to reach the limits of what they can afford, especially in the most expensive markets. That can crowd out first-time buyers, who may also face student loans and credit-card debt that make it difficult for them to take on a large mortgage.

While low inventories and short supply are boosting prices, financing continues to be a concern for some potential purchasers, particularly young adults and first-time home buyers.

Sales of previously owned homes tumbled 7.1% in February from the prior month, the National Association of Realtors said last week. Realtors blamed the lack of inventory, rising prices, the January blizzard on the East Coast, and a slump in the stock market.

Still real-estate agents expect activity to pick up during the spring selling season. A forward-looking indicator—the number of existing homes that went under contract—rose 3.5% in February to its highest level in seven months, NAR said on Monday.