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Vegas real estate: Sin City emerging from distress

The Las Vegas housing market is in transition, from a situation where investors were swooping up distressed properties to a market of more traditional, owner-occupant sales.

While home prices are up nearly 19 percent from a year ago, they are still more than 40 percent off their peak, according to S&P Case Shiller's latest home price report. Prices in "Sin City" bottomed in January 2012 at a median of $118,000 before rising at a record rate for 19 straight months until September 2013, when prices began to level off again, according to the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors.

Cash buyers made up 34.7 percent of sales in June, down from a peak of nearly 60 percent in February 2013.

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Cynthia Silver, a Las Vegas Realtor with Century 21 Martinez & Associates, said sales have slowed, putting buyers in a better position. "We have more inventory and we have fewer cash buyers here that are outbidding them and paying retail, so buyers are in a position to find a property they really want,as opposed to just buying what they can afford or what they can win a bid on," she said.

"The mix of closings are slanting much more toward nondistressed sales, which has fewer investors picking up properties," said Brian Gordon of Las Vegas-based analytics firm Applied Analysis.

Zillow economist Stan Humphries said affordability is still strong in Las Vegas. Fifty-seven percent of homes sold in Vegas are vacant, and nearly 30 percent of homeowners are still in a negative equity position—meaning the homeowner owes more on the mortgage than the home is worth.

"It's a signal we're continuing to work through distressed assets that remain in the market," Gordon said.

—By CNBC's Stephanie Dhue

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  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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