Investors and first-time buyers, the traditional harbingers of a housing rebound, are competing for bargain-price foreclosures. With sales up 45% from last year, the vast backlog of inventory has diminished. Even prices, which have plummeted to levels not seen since the beginning of the decade, show evidence of stabilising.

Indications of progress are visible in other hard-hit areas, including Las Vegas, parts of Florida and the Inland Empire in south eastern California. Sales in Las Vegas in March, for example, rose 35% from last year.

'It’s fragile, and it could easily be fleeting,' said an MDA DataQuick analyst, Andrew LePage. 'But history suggests this is how things might look six months before prices bottom out.'

New York Times