A sign notes a new price for a house in Portland. Real estate trade group says sales of existing homes have risen 3.1 percent in July. - AP

Western home sales inch up

Sales of existing homes in the West edged higher overall in July, as many buyers took advantage of falling prices in foreclosure-ravaged areas in California, Nevada and elsewhere, according to two reports Monday.

Seattle and Portland were among the top 10 metros in the nation with the most pronounced drop in home sales.

About 1.1 million preowned houses and condominiums were sold last month in the 13-state region, up almost 1 percent from the same month last year, according to the National Association of Realtors. But the median home price in the West plunged by more than 22 percent versus a year ago to $273,200, the association said.

Nationally, existing home sales were down 13.2 percent from July last year, but rose 3.1 percent from June. The U.S. median home price slipped 7.1 percent to $212,400 compared with July 2007.

The Western region, where sales of foreclosed homes are translating into sharp price declines, was clearly a large drag on the overall market.

Five Western metropolitan areas — Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Phoenix and Las Vegas — were among the top 10 markets with the steepest median home price declines in the nation last month, according to The Associated Press-Re/Max Monthly Housing Report, which analyzed all home sales recorded by all local agents, regardless of company affiliation.

The Las Vegas metro area, where foreclosures have flooded the market since last year, was the hottest market in the country last month, according to the AP-Re/Max report.

Sales almost doubled versus a year ago, and rose 16 percent from June. The median home price, meanwhile, tumbled 25 percent to $220,000 versus a year ago.

"I think our market has probably reached its bottom," said Rosa Herwick, a broker and owner of Century 21 JR Realty in Henderson, Nev.

Herwick said bank-owned homes and short sales — meaning the bank agrees to accept less than the value on the mortgage — accounted for much of what was sold last month in Las Vegas.

Large housing markdowns are also helping some buyers in California overcome their affordability hurdles.

Ysidro Simental bought a three-bedroom, two-bath house in Corona, Calif., about 50 miles east of Los Angeles, that would have been beyond his reach financially just two years ago.

The home previously sold in 2006 for $510,000 and eventually ended up in foreclosure. Simental, 56, landed the house at an auction for $347,000 and moved in two weeks ago.

"We couldn't have bought it for that (higher) price," said Simental, a warehouse clerk. "We weren't ready to buy before ... it just happened the market went down and we were just happy that prices have fallen down for us."

In the Los Angeles metro area, sales surged by nearly 31 percent last month compared to a year earlier. The median home price fell to $335,000, a drop of nearly 35 percent from July 2007, according to the AP-Re/Max report.

Elsewhere in California, San Diego saw sales jump 8.3 percent, while San Francisco's sales rose 3.1 percent.

Steve Roberson, a broker with a Century 21 My Real Estate Co. in Downey, about 13 miles southeast of Los Angeles, estimated 70 percent of the sales his office handled involved short sales or bank-owned properties.

Elsewhere in the West, sales remained on a downward track last month, reflecting the broader, national housing slump.

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