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Leaving Las Vegas?
Home prices in Vegas hit record highs recently. Now, say real estate agents, the market is cooling.
August 26, 2004: 2:32 PM EDT
By Sarah Max, CNN/Money senior writer

BEND, Ore. (CNN/Money) In Las Vegas, it's only a matter of time before your luck changes. So after enjoying the nation's most robust real estate market, homeowners there may soon discover what gamblers have always known: Fast money moves in two directions.

Between the second quarters of 2003 and 2004, single-family home prices in Las Vegas shot up 52.4 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. It was the greatest 12-month increase ever for any metropolitan area.

Sin City was sizzling. It wasn't unusual for sellers to get a dozen offers on a house and sell it in a single day. Builders had waiting lists for new developments. Buyers many of them "investors" from out of state were so eager to get their foot in the door they made offers on property without even seeing it.

"They gave instruction to their agents to buy anything between $250,000 and $300,000 that looked like a good rental or a property to flip," said Daniel Butterworth, an agent with Re/Max Advantage in Las Vegas.

Now, seemingly as quickly as it heated up, Vegas real estate has cooled down.

"In the last 60 days the market has died," said Leslie Carver, with Prudential Americana in Las Vegas. "Before, I couldn't keep a listing for day. Now, not even one person has looked at some of these houses in a couple of weeks."

The boomtown of year

Warm weather, affordable housing and amenities, such as shopping, restaurants and golf courses, made Las Vegas a popular destination for out-of-state newcomers. (See "Why some markets are hot."

Between 2000 and 2003, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, new domestic residents accounted for a 25.9 percent increase in the population of Clark County. (Domestic migration is just one element of population growth. Births, deaths and international migration also factor in.)

As all those new residents were moving in, word got out that Las Vegas was the place to buy property and resell for a profit. "We got a big influx of investors over the past six to nine months," said Butterworth.

There were so many "investors," in fact, that builders in new developments began refusing to sell to anyone who didn't plan to occupy the house. "They wouldn't work with agents and they didn't want investors," said Carver.

Now, said Butterworth, builders are contacting agents and offering even more than that standard 3-percent commission. Other sellers are rethinking asking prices and adjusting their expectations for how long it will take to sell.

Lessons from the oasis

According to Lee Barrett, president of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors, things have indeed slowed down, but the market is still healthy. In July, 79 percent of all listings sold within 30 days, according association statistics.

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Sin City's housing market has appeared to be unstoppable with soaring home prices and a continuous influx of new residents. CNNfn's Gerri Willis takes a peek.

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Based on the number of out-of-state driver's licences being traded in at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Clark County, Las Vegas is still bringing in 6,000 to 7,000 new residents a month. And the number of houses and condos sold in July is about what it was in April.

"We've gone from an exceptional market to a normal market," said Barrett.

The problem is too much supply. Investors and even permanent residents have flooded the market with new listings.

There is now a five-month supply of homes on the market, verses a slim 1.7-month supply during the second quarter, Barnett explained. And the total number of properties on the market is nearly twice what it was in January, according to the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors.

Many are actually relieved.

"Sellers had false ideas about the value of their house and the time it should take to sell, and that wasn't fair to buyers," Barrett said.

"People expected to make a $100,000 after just a couple of months," added Butterworth. "They were starting to get greedy."

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The unique sharpness of the rise of Las Vegas may exacerbate its relative (and relative is the key word) decline. Still, there are lessons in all this for the rest of the country. Across America, other notably "hot" housing markets seem to be cooling down as well.

"Things have slowed down, but to a manageable level," said Yvonne Cromer, a property owner in San Diego, whom we profiled in May. "Six months ago buyers were writing offers above asking price before they had even seen the property, just so they had a chance."

In Orange County, meanwhile, there is a five-month supply of houses on the market, verses a one-month supply earlier in the year, said Vinh Ha, an agent with Re/Max Realty Services.

"The market has really slowed down in the past couple of months," he said. "I think it just got to where people were fed up with high prices."  Top of page




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