Las Vegas region home sales rose last month to the highest level for a March in four years as buyers took advantage of soon-to-expire tax credits and low home prices and mortgage rates. The median sale price inched up from February and declined from the year-ago level by the smallest amount since October 2007, thanks mainly to an uptick in transactions over $200,000 and a decrease in foreclosure resales, a real estate information service reported.

Foreclosure resales – homes that had been foreclosed on in the prior 12 months – fell to 55.5 percent of all resales in March, down from 59.6 percent in February and down from 73.1 percent a year ago, according to MDA DataQuick of San Diego. The firm tracks real estate trends nationally via public property records.

Foreclosure resales peaked in April 2009 at 73.7 percent of all resales. They’ve declined each month since then. Last month’s figure was the lowest since foreclosure resales were 54.7 percent of the resale market in May 2008.

A total of 4,328 new and resale houses and condos closed escrow in the Las Vegas-Paradise metro area (Clark County) last month, up 31.9 percent from February and up 12.7 percent from a year earlier. A rise in sales between February and March is normal for the season, with the gain averaging 29.1 percent since 1994, when DataQuick’s complete Las Vegas region stats begin.

March’s sales total was the highest for that month since March 2006, when 8,486 homes sold, and it was 0.8 percent lower than the average March sales tally back to 1994. Last month marked the 19th in a row in which total sales rose on a year-over-year basis.

Sales of homes priced above $200,000 made up 23.5 percent of total sales, up from 22.4 percent in February but down from 28.5 percent a year earlier.

The number of houses and condos that resold (excludes new homes) in March rose to 4,334, up 30.9 percent from February and up 12.3 percent from a year earlier to the highest point since 4,721 resales in March 2006. Resales have risen on a year-over-year basis for 23 straight months.

Sales of newly built homes, including condos and condo conversions, rose to 543 in March, up 40.3 percent from February and up 15.5 percent from a year earlier. But it was still the second-slowest March, behind last year, for new-home sales since at least 1994.

Given the typical new home sells for more than the typical resale home, last month’s gain in the percentage of total sales that were newly built homes helped push the all-homes median sale price up from February, as did the uptick in overall sales above $200,000. Moreover, existing condos, which tend to have the lowest sale prices, represented a slightly smaller portion of sales last month compared with February.

The median price paid for all new and resale houses and condos sold in the Las Vegas metro area in March was $130,000, up 3.0 percent from $126,197 in February but down 10.3 percent from $144,900 a year earlier. The year-over-year decline was the smallest since October 2007, when the median dropped 9.2 percent from a year earlier, to $279,790.

The overall median sale price has fallen on a year-over-year basis for 35 consecutive months and in March stood 58.3 percent below the peak $312,000 median in November 2006.

The median price paid for resale single-family detached houses – by far the region’s largest home-type category – was $135,000, up from $133,800 in February but down 8.8 percent from $148,000 a year ago – the smallest annual decline since September 2007. The March median was 56.8 percent lower than the peak $312,250 median in June 2006.

The median price paid last month for resale condos was $68,500, down a tad from $69,000 in February and down 4.9 percent from $72,000 a year earlier – the smallest annual decline since July 2007. The resale condo median has been hovering a bit below or above $70,000 for nearly a year. March’s resale condo median was 66.3 percent below its $203,000 peak in July 2006.

An alternative price gauge – the median paid per square foot for resale single-family detached houses – edged insignificantly higher in March, to $77. That’s up from $76 in February – a level that had held since last October – but down 4.9 percent from a year earlier. It was the smallest year-over-year decrease since April 2007. March’s figure was 59.5 percent below the June 2006 peak of $190 per square foot.

Meantime, foreclosures rose last month compared with February, but fell below the year-ago level. In March 2,188 homes and condos were foreclosed on in the Las Vegas region, up 24.6 percent from February but down 6.9 percent from a year earlier. For the first quarter of this year (January through March), foreclosures totaled 5,611, down 26.4 percent from the prior quarter and down 36.3 percent from a year ago. The figures are based on the number of trustees deeds filed at the Clark County recorder’s office. Those filings have seesawed monthly for more than a year, and a single month’s rise or fall doesn’t necessarily indicate a new trend.

In March, a popular form of financing among first-time home buyers – government-insured FHA loans – accounted for 52.2 percent of all home purchase loans.

Absentee buyers purchased 41.5 percent of all Las Vegas–area homes sold in March, paying a median $110,000 for their homes. That was down from 44.6 percent absentee buyers in February. Absentee buyers are often investors, but can include second-home buyers and others who, for various reasons, indicate at the time of sale that the property tax bill will go to a different address.

Buyers who appear to have used cash to purchase their homes accounted for 48.5 percent of all March sales, down from 51.5 percent in February, based on an analysis of public property records. The median price paid in these seemingly all-cash deals in March was $103,000. Specifically, they were transactions where there was no indication of a purchase mortgage recorded at the time of sale. Some of these “cash” buyers could have used alternative financing arrangements outside of a typical, recorded purchase mortgage, and in some cases they might be taking out mortgages after their purchases. All-cash deals have become popular in many Western markets where prices have dropped sharply, luring investor buyers who can’t always qualify for traditional mortgages. Moreover, sellers favor the relative speed and certainty of all-cash transactions.

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Las Vegas-Paradise, NV MSA

Number of sales Mar-09 Mar-10 %Chng
Resale houses 3,178 3,395 6.80%
Resale condos 680 939 38.10%
New homes 470 543 15.50%
All homes 4,328 4,877 12.70%
Median sale price Mar-09 Mar-10 %Chng
Resale houses $148,000 $135,000 -8.80%
Resale condos $72,000 $68,500 -4.90%
New homes $218,995 $201,360 -8.10%
All homes $144,900 $130,000 -10.30%