Utah County residents overwhelmingly cite education and affordability as chief reasons for moving in and settling down in Utah's fastest-growing county, even though newly released state figures on home prices don't support their views.

"Half my neighborhood is from California, and my neighbor is from Wyoming," said Lindsay Storres, an Eagle Mountain resident who says she believes the influx of out-of-staters can be attributed to several things: affordable homes, a place close enough to shopping and better schools.

A Multiple Listing Service sales activity trend report countered the popular belief that homes are selling for much less south of the Point of the Mountain.

Only a $6,000 difference emerged in the average prices of home and condo sales when comparing Salt Lake County and slightly lower-priced Utah County. Still, homes in lower-cost areas have filled up faster.

"Price of homes was a huge reason for moving down here," said Luke Hanson, 26. "We wanted to live in Sugar House (in Salt Lake County), but the prices stopped us, so we came out here."

Hanson, who has one child, said he objected at first to living "clear out here ... But now that we're here, we like it," he said.

According to Utah Population Estimates Committee, the county's popularity is also growing on 26,022 more new Utah County residents this year. Despite a half million neighbors, residents still feel like it's their "hometown."

"Our neighbors actually come out and say 'hi,' and people know each other," said Katie Wilkinson, who was walking her children with a friend on an Eagle Mountain jogging path.

"In these newer areas, people are more accepting," Wilkinson said about being a Methodist in a predominantly Latter-day Saint community. "I don't feel as pressured out here."

Wilkinson's evening walking partner, Kati Baxter, who is LDS, said she also noticed an expanding religious and racial demographic in the area and said it was positive.

"Except I know of a lot of illegal aliens," Baxter said. "And I don't say it to sound racist, but it really bothers me that they just move in and get jobs so quick. Everyone hires them illegally."

Shawn Elliot, transportation planner for Mountainland Association of Governments, told the Deseret Morning News that Latino immigrants are, in fact, adding to the county's population.

State demographer Juliette Tennert said she doesn't think the change has been drastic.

Josh Everton, 33, hasn't noticed a drastic change yet, either.

"A lot of LDS people move away and come back, either to have families or go to school," Everton said. "But I think it's more of the same people: newlyweds and 'nearly deads.'"

E-mail: jhancock@desnews.com j