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Sales of existing single-family homes in Salt Lake County jumped to the highest level in five years in the first quarter, but home prices are still falling, a new report shows.

In Utah's most populous county, 2,156 homes sold in January, February and March, up 18 percent from 1,830 during the same three-month period in 2011, the Salt Lake Board of Realtors reported.

The median single-family home price fell to $190,500, down 5 percent from $200,000 in the first quarter of 2011 and down 26 percent from a peak of $256,000 in the summer of 2007. The same trend of home-sale increases and selling-price declines can be seen in most areas along the Wasatch Front.

In Davis County, sales are up 22 percent, while prices are down more than 4 percent year-over-year. In Utah County, sales are about the same as last year, while prices are down by 1. 8 percent. Tooele County was the only county with an increase in home prices, rising 6.3 percent, to $154,000.

Weighing on the home-sale market in most areas are foreclosures and short sales — in which a lender agrees to accept less than it is owed. Nearly one-half of the homes for sale along the Wasatch Front involve some type of distressed property.

Although prices have yet to stabilize, on a year-over-year basis, home sales in Salt Lake County have been increasing for 10 consecutive months, said Donna Pozzuoli, president of the Salt Lake Board of Realtors.

Pozzuoli said more sellers are receiving multiple offers and selling their properties in shorter amounts of time.

Overall, the average number of days homes are on the market before they are sold fell 13 percent in the first quarter, to 122 days, down from 141 days last year.

Randy Hulbert of Taylorsville said it took only 13 days to put his home under contract at just under the asking price of $264,800.

Two prospective buyers initially submitted lower offers, but those rose after the two competed for the property.

Mark Knold, chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said Utah's job growth — among the tops in the country —is helping boost home sales. But an even more important factor might be falling prices, he said.

Low mortgage rates in the 4 percent range are attracting buyers, as well.

Theoretically, if home sales keep rising, prices eventually will, too, Knold said. But don't expect to make a fortune in Utah real estate because the days of dougle-digit annual increases in value of several years ago aren't expected again anytime soon. Price increases in the coming years are expected to be moderate — in the low single digits at best. Twitter: @cheapchick —

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