Median single family home prices in the Manatee-Sarasota area rose 13.2 percent in February to $178,250, as the number of home sales increased nearly 9 percent year over year and the number of homes for sale is shrinking, according to housing data released Thursday.
The average condominium prices in the area rose 8.6 percent to $142,300.
Across the state, Florida Realtors reported more closed sales, rising median prices, increased pending sales, more new listings and a reduced inventory of homes for sale in February, according to data from the Florida Realtors Association.
The Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Statistical area saw 905 single-family homes sell in February, up 8.9 percent over February 2012, and another 486 condo sales, for a year-over-year increase of 22.4 percent
Greg Owens, a listing agent with Keller Williams On the Water in Manatee County, said the latest numbers signal a healthy recovery in the housing market.
"We're seeing a pretty good rebound," Owens said. "This is taking us on the track we should have been on before."
Owens said the market has been depressed for so long, "it was ridiculous at one point."
Prices now are recovering and the market is returning to normal.
"Everyone wants to see a normal market," Owens said.
"For most people their house it their largest asset. People were losing their largest asset before and now they can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it's getting much, much brighter."
And it's not just in Florida. Across the country, housing prices are on the rise.
Existing-home sales nationwide rose in February to reach the highest rate in more than three years, another sign of a strengthening housing market, according to the National Association of Realtors. Existing-home sales across the country rose 0.8 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.98 million, hitting the highest level since November 2009.
Florida, one of the states hit hardest by the housing bubble, is seeing an especially strong recovery.
"Each month brings more positive signs for the state's housing market," said 2013 Florida Realtors President Dean Asher, "February is the 14th month in a row" that statewide median sales prices for both single-family homes and for townhouse-condo units increased year-over-year.
Meanwhile, pending sales - contracts that are signed but not yet completed or closed - for existing single-family homes last month rose 26.7 percent over the previous February. The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes last month was $150,000, up 12.8 percent from the previous year.
According to the National Association of Realtors, the national median sales price for existing single-family homes in January 2013 was $174,100, up 12.6 percent from the previous year.
Owens said the Manatee-Sarasota market currently has about a 90-day inventory of houses available for sale and they are moving fast. He described it as a "real sellers' market in the $300,000 and under" housing market.
Owens said several things are affecting the rebound in the housing market, including historically low interest rates, rising employment and rise in population as people move into Florida again.
"Everybody was waiting to see where the economy was going and now they are looking for a place to live," Owens said.
The influx of people to Florida -- largely second home owners and retirees at this point -- are buoying property sales statewide.
"Properties are selling more quickly statewide, especially at certain price points - the median days a home is on the market dropped about 15 percent for single-family homes and 10 percent for townhouse-condo units in February," Asher said. "Plus, sellers are receiving more than 92 percent of their original listing price in both the single-family home and townhouse-condo markets."
Statewide closed sales of existing single-family homes totaled 15,666 in February, up 10.3 percent compared to the year-ago figure, according to data from Florida Realtors Industry Data and Analysis department. Closed sales typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written.
Across the state more homes are also coming on the market, a positive sign economically," said John Tuccillo, the chief economics for Florida Realtors Association.
"This is the first sign that low inventories are convincing sellers to come to the market," Tuccillo said.
All of this is nothing but good news, Owens said.
"As the real estate market climbs back out of the hole it was in, it will help the whole area economically."
-- Material from MarketWatch was used in this report.
Toni Whitt, business editor, can be reached at 941-745-7087. Follow her @tonitwhitt.