BOSTON (

TheStreet

) -- A tax credit for first-time home buyers boosted sales, but real estate's woes in 2009 were as thinly hidden as a layer of lead paint.

With $8,000 in their pockets from Uncle Sam, new home buyers boosted sales of existing homes to more than 6.5 million last month, according to the National Association of Realtors. That's up 7.4% from October and 44% from the same time last year. However, median prices have fallen 4.3% from last year, with the Northeast down a whopping 13%. New-home sales also declined 11% last month, according to the Commerce Department, hurting homebuilders such as

Lennar

(LEN) - Get Report

and

Toll Brothers

(TOL) - Get Report

.

With that dichotomy in mind, here are some of the trends that defined real estate in 2009:

Nope, not budging:

It's difficult to say what was in greater abundance this year, houses on the market or what real estate agents called "money on the sidelines." In many cases, the first-time buyer credit and the bloated statistics that followed only fueled the

real estate

standoff between owners who stuck to their selling prices and prospective buyers waiting for deals. From mountain-state management companies unloading

ranch property

to skiers searching for that perfect

vacation home

, it seemed the whole country was in on this game of real estate chicken -- with few flinches from either side.

Please buy my mansion:

Sales of homes valued at more than $1 million were up 39% in November from the same time last year, but the prices of homes above $2 million have sunk roughly 25% this year, according to the National Association of Realtors. Tony

Greenwich, Conn.,

saw sales fall nearly 50% this year, while posh sellers from

New York

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to

Napa

struggled to unload

mansions and vacation homes

.

For rent, my house:

As

Eric Clapton

discovered, sometimes the best way to earn back some of your property's big price tag is to rent it out. This year, owners turned their high-end primary homes into

luxury vacation rentals

for upwards of $20,000 a week. Even city dwellers weathered the crisis by turning luxe lofts and condos into cozy

vacation homes

.

No love for Florida, Detroit, Vegas:

Ask

Shaquille O'Neal

how hard it is to sell a home in Miami. While existing-home sales are rising in Florida, prices are down 12% from a year earlier, according to the Florida Association of Realtors. It's worse in

Las Vegas

and

Detroit

, where home values dropped 48% and 31% respectively.

The U.S. Census Bureau had worse news for all three locales last week, when it noted that Michigan lost the most residents (0.33%) of the three states that lost population last year. (Maine lost 0.11%, while Rhode Island trimmed 0.03%). Florida and Nevada, meanwhile, managed to turn an influx of residents at the beginning of the decade into an outflow after housing went bust, according to Census data.

-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.

Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.