WASHINGTON — Buyers who were brave enough to dive into the market for a bargain-priced house helped provide a modest boost to sales last month.

WASHINGTON — Buyers who were brave enough to dive into the market for a bargain-priced house helped provide a modest boost to sales last month.

Sales of inexpensive foreclosures and other distressed low-end properties even have sparked bidding wars in places like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Miami. But the market for high-end properties is at a virtual standstill, mainly because it remains difficult to get a mortgage for expensive homes.

"We're looking at a dual market right now," said Sherry Chris, chief executive of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday home sales rose 2.9 percent to an annual rate of 4.68 million in April from a downwardly revised pace of 4.55 million in March. Sales were 4.6 percent below April last year, without adjusting for seasonal factors.

Compared with January, the lowest point in the housing recession, April sales were up nearly 4 percent. But compared with the peak in September 2005, sales still are down 35 percent. And they have not kept pace with foreclosures, which continue to pile up at an alarming pace. Those properties helped drag down the median sales price to $170,200.

Foreclosures and other distressed sales made up about 45 percent of all transactions in April, according to the Realtors group.