Forget the fancy prose. Here’s the gist of housing in January, nationwide.

Sales of existing homes were down almost 30% from December (from 404,000 to 284,000 units), but up slightly from January 2010 (from 275,000 to 284,000 units, or about 3.3%). Click here for the NAR spreadsheet (Excel format).

The driving forces were cash sales (read: investors; 23% of buyers) and distressed/foreclosure sales (just under 50%).

Meanwhile, sales of new homes were down sharply — off 12.6% over December.

And, of course, there’s the whole issue of the last 10 years’ worth of home-sales data — things might have been worse all along.

Virginia numbers coming soon..