MANATEE -- The median price for a single-family home in the Manatee County metropolitan area, which includes Bradenton, Sarasota and North Port, rose nearly 20 percent over May 2012.
Last month, 1,315 single-family houses for sale in Manatee and Sarasota counties closed -- a 17.3 percent increase over May 2012. The median sale price was $201,521, third-highest in Florida.
Prices for townhouses and condominiums rose modestly as did sales.
In May, 615 townhouses and condos sold, up 4.8 percent over May 2012, and the median price was $150,000, a 5.6 percent increase over the same month a year ago.
The rising trend followed the state's housing market, which saw an increase in closed sales, more pending sales, rising median prices, more new listings and a lower inventory of homes for sale, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors.
The two markets with higher median prices for single family homes were in the Miami metro area, which includes Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties, where median sales prices for May were $250,000, and in Collier County, where median sales prices were $352,750.
"Home sales continue to increase, it's taking less time for sales to close, and median sales prices are on the rise," said 2013 Florida Realtors President Dean Asher, broker-owner with Don Asher & Associates Inc. in Orlando.
"This is the 17th month in a row that we've seen the statewide median sales prices increase year-over-year for both single-family homes and for townhome-condo properties," Asher said.
Peter Crowley, co-owner of the RE/MAX Alliance Group Sarasota and Manatee, said his company
saw a lot of May activity in May, which he believes is a good sign.
Crowley said the Florida housing market is likely to slow down "somewhat" over the next couple of months during the summertime lull, but he doesn't see any other factors, including rising interest rates, slowing the market.
"Interest rates are still very low, still very good," Crowley said. "Unless interest rates jump dramatically, which I don't think will happen, the pace of sales won't change. Rates will creep up but I don't see it slowing the housing market down."
Crowley said his office is still seeing a majority of cash transactions and those buyers aren't affected by interest rates.
He said cash buyers include a mix of foreign investors buying foreclosed houses to rehab for rentals and people who have been sitting on cash and are even buying in the luxury market on homes in excess of $1 million.
Crowley said the rise in the median home price is a good sign overall.
"It's a sign that both investors and the typical home buyers are feeling confident about the economy and the housing market," Crowley said.
He said the fundamentals driving the housing market today are very different than those that drove the market during the housing boom. The median prices today, he said, are still affordable to typical home buyers.
"As long as it's a gradual increase that can be justified by the market it's fine," Crowley said. "And, so far, we have justified at those prices."
Even with the median home price on the rise, Crowley said, there are still affordable houses to be had.
Across the country, sales of previously occupied homes surpassed 5 million in May for the first time in 3 1/2 years, according to the Associated Press. The gain shows the housing recovery is strengthening.
The National Association of Realtors reported Thursday home resales rose 4.2 percent in May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.18 million. That's up from April's pace of 4.97 million.
Sales last exceeded 5 million in November 2009. During that month and October 2009, a home-buying tax credit briefly inflated the sales pace. Prior to that, sales hadn't been above 5 million since July 2007.
While the sales pace is still below the 5.5 million rate consistent with healthy markets, it has risen nearly 13 percent in the past 12 months.
The Realtors' group said the median price of a home rose in May to $208,000, the highest level since July 2008. That represented a 15.4 percent jump from a year ago, the fastest year-over-year gain since October 2005.
"Sellers are seeing this momentum in Florida's housing sector and it's prompting many to decide now is the time to list their property for sale," Asher said.
"Statewide, new listings for single-family homes increased 10.2 percent in May, while new townhome-condo listings rose 7.1 percent."
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke cited housing gains Wednesday as a major reason the Fed's economic outlook has brightened.
Still, mortgage rates have risen in recent weeks and are expected to rise further now the Fed has signaled plans to scale back bond purchases this year if the economy continues to strengthen. Higher mortgage rates could slow housing market momentum, too.
A better housing outlook made builders more optimistic. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index rose in June to 52, up from 44 in May. It was the highest reading in more than seven years and the largest monthly increase in more than a decade. A reading above 50 indicates more builders view sales conditions as good rather than poor.
Statewide closed sales of existing single-family homes totaled 22,375 in May, up 18.7 percent compared with the year-ago figure, according to the Florida Realtors Industry Data and Analysis department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. Closed sales typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written.
Pending sales -- contracts signed but not yet completed or closed -- for existing single-family homes last month rose 30.8 percent over the previous May. The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes last month was $171,000, up 15.9 percent from the previous year.
Looking at Florida's year-to-year comparison for sales of townhouse-condos, 11,201 units sold statewide last month, up 11.5 percent compared with May 2012. Pending sales for townhouse-condos last month increased 18.3 percent compared with the year-ago figure.
The statewide median for townhouse-condo properties was $128,000, up 13 percent over the previous year.
The inventory for single-family homes stood at a five-month supply in May; inventory for townhouse-condos was at a 5.4-month supply, according to Florida Realtors.
-- This report includes material from the Associated Press.