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Home sales increase in West

LOS ANGELES — Home sales in the Western United States posted a 9 percent annual increase in May as homebuyers jumped on low interest rates and falling prices, according to two reports released Tuesday.

Foreclosures and other distressed sales continued to drag down the median home price in the West. It tumbled more than 30 percent from May of last year to $197,700 — the biggest drop in any region. That helped pull the national median down nearly 17 percent to $173,000, the National Association of Realtors said.

Nationally, sales rose slightly from April to May, but were roughly 7 percent below year-ago levels, without adjusting for seasonal factors.

Home sales in the West have posted annual increases every month going back to at least last summer, when many first-time homebuyers and investors began snapping up sharply discounted bank-owned properties in Arizona, Nevada and California.

The foreclosure rush has helped whittle down the number of homes on the market in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas, where inventory has plunged by roughly half since May 2008, according to The Associated Press-Re/Max Monthly Housing Report, released Tuesday.

The trend suggests select markets could be turning around, but the recent rise in interest rates and the lingering economic dark clouds still threaten the region’s recovery.

“Yes, sales have increased and inventory has come down, but there’s still a tremendous amount of downward pressure on prices,” said Chris Heller, agent-owner of Keller Williams Realty in the northern San Diego suburb of Del Mar. “The amount of properties that are in the foreclosure process is enormous.”

Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco were the only major metros in the West to register an increase in home sales last month, according to the AP-Re/Max report.

They also were among the top 10 U.S. metro areas to post the sharpest median price declines in May, according to the report, which tallies all home sales in the metropolitan statistical area by all real estate agents, regardless of company affiliation.

Only one Western market, Anchorage, Alaska, had its median sales price rise, but not by much — about half a percent.

Elsewhere in the region, sales declined last month Anchorage; Denver; Seattle; Honolulu; Portland, Ore., Albuquerque, N.M.; Boise, Idaho; and Billings, Mont.

Neil Brooks, a real estate agent with Century 21 Arizona-Foothills in Phoenix, said his transactions were better in May than last year and that June looks good too.

Most of his clients are first-time homebuyers, but many are investors or homeowners looking for a vacation home.

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