Could a big gain in Web traffic hint at pending population growth in Las Vegas?

It might be tough to imagine the city expanding these days: Local officials say Clark County actually lost 10,000 residents between July 2007 and July 2008, as unemployment climbed and Las Vegans decamped for better prospects in healthier markets. Throw in all those national headlines about Southern Nevada’s sheer number of foreclosed homes and failed resort projects, and who’d want to move here?

Well, plenty of people seem at least to be considering it, according to some new numbers on Internet searches.

Las Vegas ranked No. 3 among cities seeing the biggest increases in search activity at, which is the official site of the National Association of Realtors., which lists essentially any home listed on the market through any Multiple Listing Service nationwide, says its stats show searches of homes in Las Vegas nearly doubled between December 2007 and December 2008. Househunting activity targeted at Las Vegas rose 89.6 percent year-over-year.

Fifteen of the top 20 most-improved markets for searches were in California or Florida, two states that, like Nevada, have been beset by high foreclosure activity. Fort Myers, Fla. posted the biggest jump in search activity, with 106.1 percent more searches from December 2007 to the same month a year later. Searches in Naples, Fla. grew 103.4 percent year-over-year in December. After Las Vegas came Stockton, Calif., with an 88.7 percent spike in search activity. Riverside, Calif. rounded out the top five, with an 88.3 percent increase in searches.

The site’s metrics don’t say whether the boost in activity comes from investors looking for deals, locals looking to compare costs on their neighbors’ listings or out-of-staters weighing a move in anticipation of employment prospects at new resorts. Toward the end of 2008, MGM Mirage’s CityCenter project began grabbing headlines for the 12,000 jobs it will create when it opens later this year.

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