Phoenix-area home sales hit their highest August level in five years, recording 9,657 closings in the combined Maricopa-Pinal counties. That is up 8.1% from July and 35.8% from last year, DataQuick said. Las Vegas experienced a similar trend last month, with sales jumping to a five-year high. Phoenix is the county seat of Maricopa, while Florence is the seat of Pinal County. The surge in August sales in both counties is attributed to strong investor demand and the willingness of first-time buyers to snap up properties priced under $150,000. DataQuick said  home sales did benefit somewhat from the fact the sales period stretched a few days longer in August. Among the homes sold, about 59.2% sold for less than $100,000, while sales below $150,000 grew to 49.7% over last year. Sales in the $200,000-to-$600,000 price range rose 15.6% year-over-year, while sales of homes priced at $800,000 or more remained flat. The median home sales price hit $118,000 in the Phoenix area last month, down 1.7% from July and 9.2% compared to last year. The August median price is down 55.3% when compared to the June 2006 peak of $264,000. The use of FHA-insured mortgages made up 33.5% of all loans purchased in August, down from 33.7% in July and 38.3% a year ago. Meanwhile, cash buyers represented 42.4% of all sales last month, up from 40% in July and 37.6% a year ago. Overall, distressed home sales made up nearly 62% of the Phoenix area resale market. Write to Kerri Panchuk.