SALT LAKE CITY — Home sales along the Wasatch Front rose significantly during the first three months of the year.

The Salt Lake Board of Realtors reported Thursday that the number of previously owned single-family homes sold in Salt Lake County in the first quarter of 2012 increased 18 percent compared to the same period last year.

The number of single-family homes bought and sold in Salt Lake County in the January-February-March period totaled 2,156 sales compared to 1,830 home sales during the same period in 2011.

More people purchased single-family homes in the Kearns-Taylorsville ZIP code of 84118 during the first quarter than any other area along the Wasatch Front. Sales of single-family homes in the area were up 9 percent in the first quarter over the last year.

The Clearfield ZIP code of 84015 ranked second, with 84043 in Lehi ranking third in sales for the period.

“On a year-over-year comparison, home sales in Salt Lake County have shown 10 consecutive months of gains,” said Donna Pozzuoli, president of the Salt Lake Board of Realtors.

While sales continued to rise, the median single-family home price in Salt Lake County during the quarter fell to $190,500 — down 4.75 percent compared to $200,000 in the first quarter of 2011. The number of days properties spend on the market fell 13 percent to 122 days, down from 141 days last year during the same period.

The improved home sales data helped the Wasatch Front housing market achieve a notable distinction. Salt Lake City posted one of the nation's biggest drops in foreclosure activity so far this year.

Data released by RealtyTrac showed Salt Lake City's foreclosure rate fell 22 percent in the first three months of 2012, compared with the prior quarter. That's the fourth most dramatic drop among the 50 largest metro areas in the country, and puts the city behind only Portland, Las Vegas, and Providence, R.I.

The decrease was part of a lengthier trend. The Utah capital's first quarter foreclosure rate was down 49 percent compared with the first quarter of 2011 — as one in every 163 housing units in Salt Lake City saw a foreclosure filing between January and March.

Despite the decline, the amount of foreclosures still "is at a very high level," according to James Wood, executive director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Utah, but "we're headed in the right direction."

"Things are getting better," he said. "It's just going to take … another year (for prices to improve)."

Wood said the increase in sales activity is a positive economic indicator, which should put home prices under some pressure for the rest of the year.

He said that fortunately the Utah economy is buoyed by strong "fundamentals," including growing employment that should help stabilize the housing sector in the long run.

"You've got to have (strong fundamentals) if we are going to have a chance to turn the market around," Wood said. "Those are really important."

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