No housing jackpot: Vegas price gains still hurting sellers

Snapshot of Las Vegas real estate
Snapshot of Las Vegas real estate   

Las Vegas, one of the hardest-hit housing markets of the Great Recession, is still trying to find its footing. The median price of a home sold in January was $202,000, 8 percent higher than a year ago, according to the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors.

That is stronger than national price gains and could be hampering sales. Total sales of both single-family homes and condominiums fell 13 percent from a year ago.

January is typically a time when home sales slow down, so "this month's statistics are no surprise," said Las Vegas Realtors' President Keith Lynam. "What's more relevant to us is how we're doing compared to the same time a year ago. Compared to last year, home prices are still rising, just at a more gradual pace than they did in the past few years."

The Strip at dusk in Las Vegas.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Strip at dusk in Las Vegas.

Easing prices are a positive for Las Vegas, where investors came in during the worst of the crash and purchased distressed properties at a fast clip. These largely cash buyers pushed prices up dramatically, although not quite as high as they had been during the housing boom. That resulted in regular, owner-occupant buyers rushing to the sidelines.

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Large-scale investors have now moved out of Las Vegas, leaving it to smaller, often mortgage-dependent investors. In January, just 36 percent of local home sales were conducted in cash, down from nearly 47 percent a year ago.

"Sellers are having some difficulty wrapping their brain around the fact that they're not going to get the cash investors they saw a year ago," said Cynthia Silver, a Las Vegas real estate agent with Century 21 Martinez & Associates.

Las Vegas' foreclosure rate still ranks in the top 10 for the nation, but the numbers are falling, as are the number of borrowers who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

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"We have over 70 percent of our homeowners back above water, and those that are in the 30 percent are less than 5 percent underwater. So we're really at an excellent time," added Silver, who said more homeowners are now willing to sell at breakeven or even at a slight loss.

Like much of the nation, however, Las Vegas is showing very tight inventory, with more than 6 percent fewer single-family home listings than one year ago. Condominium inventory, however, is significantly stronger, up over 15 percent from a year ago, according to the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors.