When Denise Jackman, a widow with two young children, decided to put her 4-year-old Sandy home up for sale last month, she didn't know what to expect. She had, after all, read all the stories about the recession going on and that there was a serious housing slump across much of the country.

Would her house sell quickly? She hoped so. She and her fiance had already picked out a new home near the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. If her house sat on the market for months, it could create major problems for them.Not to worry, Realtor Fred Law of Mansell & Associates told her. The local inventory of single-family-home listings was lower than usual and, in any case, there was no housing slump in the Salt Lake area. If anything, just the opposite.

Law did a market appraisal, then recommended the house be listed for $179,900. Jackman agreed and on March 8 it went on the market.

A week later the first offer came in, below the asking price. It was quickly followed by two more, also below $179,900. The couple making the first offer then upped their bid to $180,000 and it was accepted. Two more offers were in process at that time and four other real estate agents told Law they wanted to make a bid if the original deal fell through.

Jackman's happy selling experience can be balanced, of course, by others in which sellers have waited for months or even years for an acceptable offer. But real estate experts agree that it's a good indication that a nice house, fairly priced and located in a good family neighborhood, won't go begging.

Doug Richards, president of the Salt Lake Board of Realtors, said home sales in the Salt Lake area were up 13 percent in the first quarter and multiple offers on homes for sale are more common that they have been in 10 years.

"Vacancy rates are low," said Richards, "and foreclosures are down. Building permits are up and the Utah economy is stronger."

Put those factors together, said Richards, and they add up to a very healthy residential real estate market.

"Apartments are filling up and homes are selling well, as evidenced by our (the Salt Lake board's) statistics. These are patterns that don't always happen simultaneously. This kind of increased demand for housing suggests economic growth for the area."

Gene Peterson, president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Salt Lake, said sales of higher priced homes locally have, in recent years, been dominated largely by Californians who have moved to Utah.

Housing prices soared on the West Coast during most of the 1980s, allowing those residents to sell their averaged-sized homes for inflated prices that allowed them to buy "something spectacular" in Salt Lake City, where prices remained flat for most of the last decade. That has pretty much ended, said Peterson, but others have stepped into the gap.

"We're finding that even though that group is not buying now, Utahns with enough money are," said Peterson. "They're moving up. It's marvelous. It's the first time we've seen this happen in many, many years. It's an indication to me that our market is getting stronger."

Salt Lake Board of Realtors figures show that 1,253 single-family homes sold during the first quarter of the year, up 13 percent from the 1,107 sold in 1990 and a 28 percent increase over the 982 sold in 1989.

"Interest rates are as favorable as they've been for years," said Richards, "and inventory has declined because of increased demand. People have been hearing for over a year that now is a good time to buy. The statistics support the claim, so they are becoming believers."

February was particularly active as home sales soared 44 percent, reversing January's trend in which they were down 4 percent from January 1990. March sales were up 9 percent over a year ago.

The average price of homes sold in the Salt Lake area during the first quarter was $83,868, a 2 percent increase over the same three months last year. Condominium sales were up 13 percent in the first quarter with the average selling price up 8 percent to $64,004.

All residential property sales, including single-family homes, condos, duplexes, apartments and lots/acreage, were up 13 percent for the quarter. A total of 1,609 residential properties sold in the first three months of the year for a total of $125 million.