WASHINGTON (AP) - Home prices fell in nearly nine out of every 10 U.S. cities in the first quarter of this year as first-time buyers looking for bargains dominated the market.
The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday that median sales prices of existing homa."declined in 134 out of 152 metropolitan areas compared with the same period a year ago. Prices rose in the other 18 cities.
Nationwide, sales of foreclosures and other distressed properties made up about half of the market. Overall, sales dipped 3.2 percent from the year-ago period.
"I think we're near a bottom, but we're not there yet,'' said David Resler, chief economist at Nomura Securities. While prices could hit bottom as soon as this summer, he said, they are likely to remain stable and start edging higher slowly.
But the nascent signs of recovery in the housing market could be short-lived if employers continue to lay off workers in bulk.
Home sales fell in all but six states -- Nevada, California, Arizona, Florida, Virginia and Minnesota -- where buyers have been able to snap up foreclosures at a deep discount. Sales more than doubled in Nevada, rose 81 percent in California and grew 50 percent in Arizona _ signaling that the worst may be over for those distressed states.
Still, the median sales price nationwide was $169,900, down 13.8 percent from a year ago. The median price is the midpoint, which means half of the homes sold for more and half for less.
The biggest drop, of more than 50 percent, was in Fort Myers, Fla. Prices fell 40 percent or more in Saginaw, Mich.; Akron, Ohio; San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; Phoenix; Sarasota, Fla. and Riverside, Calif.
The biggest price gain, of more than 21 percent, was in Cumberland, Md. The only other double-digit increase was in Davenport, Iowa, which saw the median price climb nearly 14 percent.
Lawrence Yun, the trade group's chief economist, said the $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers included in the economic stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama earlier this year should boost sales.
"We expect a measurable increase in home sales during the second half of the year, which would help stabilize prices in most areas,'' Yun said in a statement.