Associated Press
A report from the Salt Lake Board of Realtors showed that sales of existing single-family homes in Salt Lake County in the fourth quarter of 2011 were up 18 percent compared to the same period in 2010.

SALT LAKE CITY — Buyers purchased more homes at more affordable prices along the Wasatch Front in the last quarter of 2011 in what some analysts see as one signal the worst of the economic downturn has passed and recovery should continue this year.

A report from the Salt Lake Board of Realtors showed that sales of existing single-family homes in Salt Lake County in the fourth quarter of 2011 were up 18 percent compared to the same period in 2010. However, the median price paid for a home fell 10 percent to $193,250.

Homebuyers in Davis County paid the same median price as those in Salt Lake County during the three-month period as sales jumped nearly 22 percent.

Home sales in Utah County climbed almost 18 percent, while sale prices decline around 6 percent for the quarter. Weber County sales increased 19 percent, with prices falling nearly 8 percent.

The report showed that people purchased more single-family homes in the Taylorsville/Kearns ZIP code of 84118 in the fourth quarter than any other along the Wasatch Front, with 154 sales recorded. The Lehi ZIP code of 84043 ranked second with 148 single-family homes sold during the period, while the South Jordan ZIP Code of 84095 ranked third with 133 sales.

"Seven in 10 homes in Salt Lake County are now affordable when measured against Utah's median household income of $57,000," said Donna Pozzuoli, president of the Salt Lake Board of Realtors. "We project home sales this year to rise another 15 percent to 20 percent over 2011 levels."

The median single-family home price in Salt Lake County fell to $193,250 in the fourth quarter, down 10 percent compared to $215,000 in last year's fourth quarter. In December, there were 910 homes sold in Salt Lake County — a 7 percent increase compared to 849 home sales recorded in December 2010.

In the Greater Salt Lake market, job growth and positive signs in the housing market indicate potential improvement at the end of 2011, according to a recent report by market research firm Metrostudy.

The Greater Salt Lake market continued to outperform the national economy in job growth, the report stated.

As of December 2011, the Greater Salt Lake market had created 31,300 new jobs during the previous 12 months, a increase of 3.2 percent.

"This is a major improvement when compared to the 6,100 jobs at this time last year," said Eric Allen, director of Metrostudy's Utah/Idaho region.

The Salt Lake metro market showed signs of gaining momentum with annual new home starts increasing almost 2 percent compared to third quarter 2011.

The report indicated that annual new home closings declined almost 17 percent from last year at this time.

"Metrostudy anticipated an increase would come in the second half of the year as traffic and contracts increased during the summer, along with the growing economy, low interest rates and the absence of closeable inventory," Allen said. "The consensus among market professionals seems to be that the worst is behind us."

Assuming the economy continues to show steady improvements, and resales, foreclosures and home values remain relatively stable, Metrostudy expects builders to continue increasing production through 2012, Allen added.

"Utah's economy is chugging right along," said Jim Wood, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Utah. "At year-end, the Utah economy showed clear signs of recovery, which should give a boost to the real estate market in 2012."

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