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First-time homebuyers jolt market into life

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In Oakland, the median home price dropped 66 percent over the past year to about $145,000, according to MDA DataQuick, a California-based real estate research firm. In her sought-after neighborhood of Piedmont District, Wang is finally finding homes in her price range of about $500,000, which would have been hard to come by two years ago.

Across the country, prices dropped 19 percent in January compared with the year earlier, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index of home prices in 20 major cities.

“You don’t have to spend $500,000 for a one-bedroom condo [anymore]. You might be able to get a single-family house for that now,” says Marci Orler, a realtor in San Jose, Calif., who bills herself as a first-time homebuyer specialist.

With six active clients, Ms. Orler is much busier today than she was this time last year when few first-timers, or anyone else for that matter, were shopping for houses. Prices have finally fallen to a level that people without equity can consider buying, she says.

FHA fuels the spurt

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