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Investors and first-time buyers pushed Las Vegas region home sales higher than a year ago for the seventh consecutive month in March as they snapped up nearly 2,800 foreclosure resales. With so many sales involving distressed properties, the median price paid for a home continued a two-year slide to its lowest level since late 2000, a real estate information service reported.

Nearly 74% of the Las Vegas-area houses and condos that resold in March were foreclosure resales, meaning those homes had been foreclosed on in the prior 12 months, according to MDA DataQuick. The San Diego firm tracks real estate trends nationally via public property records.

A total of 4,268 new and resale houses and condos closed escrow in the Las Vegas-Paradise metro area (Clark County) last month, up 28.7% from February and up 35.1% from a year ago. It was the highest sales total for any month since last September, but was still the lowest for any March since 1998.

March marked the 12th consecutive month in which sales of existing single-family detached houses rose on a year-over-year basis, while resale condos have seen an annual sales gain for nine straight months. The tally for total home sales has been weaker because of the sharp decline in new-home sales, which have fallen year-over-year for 33 consecutive months.

The 470 new houses and condos sold in March was the lowest new-home total on record for that month in DataQuick's complete Las Vegas statistics, which go back to 1994. The lowest month for new-home closings was January 2009, when 249 sold.

A popular form of financing used by first-time home buyers - government-insured FHA loans - accounted for about 49% of all purchases in March, while absentee buyers bought about 36% of all homes last month, according to an analysis of public records. Absentee buyers are often investors, but could include second-home buyers and others who, for various reason, have their property tax bill sent to an address other than that of the home they've purchased.

The median price paid for all homes sold in the Las Vegas metro area last month fell to $144,000, down 4% from $150,000 in February and down 41.9% from $247,925 a year ago. Last month's 41.9% annual drop is a record in DataQuick's Las Vegas statistics.

The overall median sale price has fallen on a year-over-year basis for 23 consecutive months and in March stood 53.8% below the region's peak $312,000 median in November 2006. Last month's median was the lowest since it was $143,000 in December 2000.

Another gauge analysts watch indicates a similar drop off the peak: The median paid per square foot for resale detached houses fell to $81 in March, down 37.7% from a year ago and down 54.8% from the $190 peak reached in June 2006.

Across the West, year-over-year declines in the median sale price - the point where half of the homes sold for more and half for less - have sometimes overstated the extent to which the value of the typical home has fallen. It's because the median is being tugged lower not just by price depreciation but by shifts in the types of homes selling. For example, more of today's sales involve foreclosures, which tend to sell at a discount and be concentrated in more affordable areas. Also, the August 2007 credit crunch made larger "jumbo" mortgages more expensive and harder to obtain, which has led to sluggish sales - in some cases the lowest in many years - in higher-priced communities. (A dropoff in high-end sales can pull down the median.)

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