Sales of existing homes in the West climbed higher in August versus a year ago, bucking a national trend as buyers snatched up sharply discounted foreclosed properties in California, Arizona and Nevada, according to two reports Wednesday.
About 106,000 existing homes and condos were sold last month in the 13-state region. Without adjusting for seasonal factors, that number is up about 1 percent from the same month last year and flat versus July's figures, according to the National Association of Realtors.
The median price in the West slumped by almost 24 percent from a year ago to $251,600, the association said.
Nationally, existing home sales declined 15 percent from August last year, on an unadjusted basis, and the median price tumbled 9.5 percent to $203,100.
In the Western region, states such as California and Arizona remain saddled with bank-owned homes, many of them bought by during the housing boom with risky loans that have led to the current U.S. financial crisis and calls for a $700 billion bailout.
But heavy discounting has been gradually luring buyers in recent months and August continued that trend.
"People are taking advantage of those lower prices now," said Luke Tilley, a senior economist with Global Insight in Philadelphia.
Four metropolitan areas Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Phoenix were among the top five markets with the steepest median home price declines in the nation last month, according to The Associated Press-Re/Max Monthly Housing Report, released Wednesday. The data includes all home sales recorded by all local agents, regardless of company affiliation.
Seattle and Portland, Ore., meanwhile, were among the top 10 metros in the nation with the most pronounced drop in home sales.
The Las Vegas metro area, which has had among the highest foreclosure rates in the nation for more than a year, had the biggest sales spike, according to the AP-Re/Max report.
Sales rose more than 83 percent from a year ago, though were essentially flat from July. The median price of a single-family home was $210,000, down 30 percent from a year ago.
"It's really been a resurgence of the first-time homebuyer and investor that have come back into the market with the increase in foreclosure sales," said Jason Braford, ZipRealty Inc.'s district director in Las Vegas.
Unlike many investors who descended on Las Vegas to buy properties with an eye toward flipping them quickly, many investors now are looking to buy and hold properties longer, Braford said.
Among those investors is Gerard Taylor, an attorney in San Jose, Calif., who had been looking to buy a vacation home in Las Vegas and was drawn in a few months ago by plummeting prices on foreclosures.
After losing out four times to other foreclosure hunters, Taylor set his sights on a four-bedroom, three-bath house listed for $244,000. He beat out 18 other bidders with a $271,000 offer.
While some believe prices haven't hit bottom in Las Vegas, Taylor, 37, said he's confident he made the right move jumping into the market when he did.
"Let's say I paid 10 percent too much and could have gotten a similar house for, say, $250,000, instead ... It's worth it," Taylor said. "I found the right house for me."
The surge in sales this year in Las Vegas has helped reduce the supply of unsold homes in the market more than 8 percent last month from a year ago.
"It's a good sign that the market is normalizing," Braford said.
Cinda Hopkins, a payroll manager in Phoenix, bought a bank-owned, five-bedroom, three-bath house last month in Avondale, just west of Phoenix, for $200,000.
"The reason why we decided to buy now is because of the opportunity," said Hopkins, 49, a lifelong renter. "We were looking for more square footage for our money, and currently what I'm paying for rent will be probably less than what I'm paying for my mortgage."
Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Phoenix were the only major U.S. markets tracked in the AP-Re/Max Report to post a jump in sales last month versus a year ago. (Huntington, W.Va.'s sales were essentially flat.)
Phoenix's sales rose more than 34 percent, while Los Angeles' sales rose more than 30 percent. San Francisco's sales rose about 6 percent.
The trend is far different in the Pacific Northwest.
In Seattle, sales declined more than 41 percent versus a year ago. While in Portland, Ore., sales plunged more than 34 percent.
It's taking around 120 days to sell a home in Portland and about 145 days in Seattle, said Bob Christian, chief operating officer of Century 21 North Homes Realty in Seattle.
"Most times in a balanced market we experience (sales) times of around 90 days," he said.
While Christian saw a jump in inquiries from buyers in August, which is normal for this time of year, sales remain soft compared with a year ago, he said.
Still, Christian said things are looking up in September.
"We don't see the flurry of multiple offers we had seen during the heyday of real estate ... but we do see more activity coming up," he said.
AP Business Writer Alan Zibel in Washington contributed to this report.