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* Miami 1st qtr single-family home sales rise 72 percent
* Foreign buyers, "rock-bottom prices" drive sales
* City cited as a strong "comeback" market
MIAMI, May 12 (Reuters) - Miami posted big gains in home sales in the first quarter of the year in a tentative sign of recovery in a city hard hit by the recession and the U.S. housing crisis, a local realtors' group said on Tuesday.
The Realtor Association of Greater Miami and the Beaches (RAMB) said single-family home sales jumped 72 percent in the first quarter over the same period a year earlier, making it the hottest single-family home market in any major metropolitan area in the state.
Sales of existing condominiums soared 51 percent at a time when statewide sales of existing condos rose just 19 percent.
"Miami has been one of the strongest comeback markets in the state of Florida," RAMB chairman Rick Burch said in a statement, citing "rock-bottom prices" and buyers from Europe, Brazil and Venezuela among factors behind the upswing.
The median sales price for single-family homes in the Miami area was $203,700 in the first quarter, down 38 percent from the year-ago period, according to RAMB.
It said the median condo sales price was $149,000, a 47 percent drop from a year ago.
Though Burch said there were statistics "that definitely point to a market recovery" in Miami, RAMB spokeswoman Lynda Fernandez cautioned that it may be too soon to talk about a "bottoming" in the housing market.
"It's hard to determine because there's still a lot of foreclosures and short sales out there that are affecting the median sales price," said Fernandez.
"I've always heard it said that you don't know when the market has turned," she added.
Fernandez said about 38 percent of the single-family and existing condo units sold in the first quarter were believed to involve properties in foreclosure or distress sales. (Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by James Dalgleish)