December home sales sank 17 percent nationwide, the largest monthly drop since the National Association of Realtors began tracking figures 42 years ago, but jumped 15 percent from a year ago, the group reported.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the national trade group, said sales swings were caused by the buyers’ credit, which was originally set to expire in November, pushing many buyers to close that month. Then when Congress extended the deadline to end of April, buyers relaxed in December, usually a slow month for sales, housing market observers said.

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“We’ll likely have another surge in the spring as home buyers take advantage of the extended and expanded tax credit,” Yun said. “By early summer, the overall market should benefit from more balanced inventory, and sales are on track to rise again in 2010.”

But Julie Poidomani, associate broker at Long Island Carriage House Realty in Bohemia, said prices are still “leveling off” and not going up.

For one thing, she said, prices are not just based on number of foreclosure sales but the glut of such properties on the market: “You see a lot of foreclosures, but they haven’t closed yet.”

But she and other local experts said there are more sales now than a year ago because prices are lower.

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Irwin Izen, real property committee co-chair at the Suffolk County Bar Association, said he hasn't seen prices so low since the late 1980s. As an attorney who represents buyers and sellers on closings, Izen said he’s getting more first-time home buyers who are young couples, each with jobs but making less than past house hunters venturing into the market for the first time.

“You’re finding house prices in the 150 to 160 to 170 range for a two- to three- or four-bedroom house somewhere in Mastic-Shirley or Brentwood, Central Islip,” Izen said. “Anybody can buy a house like that nowadays.”

File photo by Michael E. Ach.

>> Photos: If you want a bank-owned home
>> Selling tips: Advice from real estate experts to help you sell your home
>> Buying tips: Experts offer pointers to help you navigate today's homebuying process
>> Money: Learn more about mortgages, taxes and other real estate money matters
>> LI Real Estate serach: Click here to find the latest listings and prices on homs in LI.