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And in other news, prices for single family homes in major U.S. cities jumped more than 12 percent over the past year, according to the latest Case Shiller Home Price Index. That was more than economists had been expecting and made a lot of people happy, especially in Las Vegas. Prices there have jumped over 20 percent in the last 12 months. And that's in a city that used to be known as America's foreclosure capital. NPR's Nathan Rott traveled to Vegas to find out what's going on.
NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Lisa DeSousa is sitting in her air-conditioned office in west Las Vegas going through a list of phone numbers.
LISA DESOUSA: I do three rings, and then on to the next one.
ROTT: She's cold-calling homes in Sun City, a suburb that's just a few manicured miles of cookie-cutter suburbia to the north, because - oh, she's got one. This will explain it.
DESOUSA: Hi. Good morning. My name is Lisa. I'm a local realtor. And I was calling today because many homeowners are taking advantage of our improved market. And I was just wondering if you'd given any thought to selling your home at this time.
ROTT: The Las Vegas housing market is so tight right now, that realtors are calling people to try to get them to sell their homes, with varied results.
DESOUSA: Hello? She hung up.
ROTT: Realtors are always trying to find homes to sell. But right now in Vegas, it's taken on a new fervor.
NOAH HERRERA: Right now, on average, our average listing we have, we can say there s no less than 15 offers on a property that we have.
ROTT: That's Noah Herrera. He's vice president of the Las Vegas Association of Realtors. And he says a normal, healthy housing supply has enough homes to meet a six-month demand. Right now, Vegas has barely enough for five weeks. One reason, he says, is an influx of big-money investors - Wall Street and hedge funds - who are buying up properties in bulk.
HERRERA: We have institutional investors that are coming in and taking all of our inventory, over-bidding, paying cash.
ROTT: Another big reason, Herrera says, is...
HERRERA: Federal laws, local laws. There was a law that was passed in 2011, which was AB 284.
ROTT: Now, Assembly Bill 284 did locally what other federal laws did nationally after the housing market crash. It made it harder for banks to foreclose. And it did that by making mortgage and foreclosure practices more transparent. It also ended things like robo-calling and predatory lending.
LUIS LOPEZ: Well, it is a bill that's meant to protect homeowners.
ROTT: Luis Lopez is an analyst at the Leid Institute of Real Estate Studies in Las Vegas.
LOPEZ: To me, it makes sense that the banks should have to show the homeowner that they have the authority to foreclose. It just seems something very basic.
ROTT: And many local realtors say it worked, slowing down foreclosures. Just look at the numbers. In September of 2011, there were 4,000 notices of default in the State of Nevada. In October, after the bill was passed, there were 80. And here's the thing: Fewer homes in foreclosure means fewer homes being pushed to the market. And the result is Economics 101: Limited supply plus high demand equals, you guessed it: higher prices. But that may not be a bad thing.
Again, our realtor, Noah Herrera.
HERRERA: Because the values have gone up so much, it's now causing normal people that were underwater to be able to sell their houses.
ROTT: And the number of people who are underwater in Nevada - or who owe more on their house than it's currently worth - is a lot. In 2010, it was 70 percent of mortgage owners in the state. Today, it's less than 50.
Clara Padilla Silver is part of that statistic. According to an appraisal, she was underwater $35,000 on her Las Vegas home.
CLARA PADILLA SILVER: And we didn't qualify for any kind of a modification.
ROTT: Her only option, she thought, was to do a short sale, to sell the house for less than it's worth, even if it damaged her credit. That's what her neighbor was doing. But then Silver thought...
SILVER: The craziness is escalating in Las Vegas. So I said let's take a chance. We'll list it for a couple of weeks.
ROTT: And wham.
SILVER: We got a cash offer for 233, and that's, what, 50,000, something like that, over what I thought the house was valued at.
ROTT: That deal fell through. But a week later, she got a similar offer, one that she expects to close in the next few weeks. But it better happen fast for the buyers, she says, because when she checks online real estate databases...
SILVER: The value of my house increases about a thousand dollars every two days.
ROTT: That, she says, is the craziness of Vegas.
Nathan Rott, NPR News.