Figures from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) revealed there were 6,168 unconditional sales in February 2012, up 37% or 1,666 sales compared to the same month last year.
"The real estate market in February has built on the strong results in December and January with a 37% lift in sales across the country compared to February last year and the highest number of transactions in a February month since 2008," said REINZ chief executive Helen O'Sullivan.
The rise in sales has yet to filter through to increased prices however, with the national median price remaining steady for the third consecutive month at $355,000, up $5,000 (1.4%) on February 2011.
"While agents are seeing more activity and more positive sentiment from buyers in most places this is not translating into significant price increases," said O'Sullivan.
"Agents in a number of areas continue to report listings shortages. Despite the increased number of transactions, buyers are remaining cautious with the days to sell measure down by just one day, and still above the long term average."
REINZ noted that while the sales increase was significant, "it is worth noting that the February 2012 result is just 65.9% of the 9,357 sales recorded in February 2007."
In line with seasonal patterns February sales volumes were up by more than 50% compared to January. However, on a seasonally adjusted basis the national total was up just 3%.
All regions apart from Otago and Canterbury/Westland saw double-digit growth compared to February 2011, Otago saw single-digit growth. However, Canterbury/Westland's sales volumes more than doubled compared to February 2011 when the market was impacted by the February 22 earthquake and its aftermath.
O'Sullivan said that while most of the focus has been on Auckland as the country's largest real estate market, its sales volume change and price movements were "middle of the pack."
She said a number of provincial markets had shown stronger year-on-year sales volume and price growth.
"The improvement in the Canterbury/Westland market is remarkable especially given the complexity of a sale transaction in a post-quake environment," she said.
However, ASB economist Jane Turner said she expected the Auckland and Christchurch markets would continue to outpace the rest of the country.
"Under-building over recent years, combined with the housing shortage created by the earthquakes, has resulted in a very tight housing market in Auckland and Canterbury," she said.
"We expect house prices will continue to lift in these regions over the near term. However, as rebuilding starts to pick up in earnest in Christchurch, the increase in housing supply should help alleviate some of the upward pressure on house prices."
The national median days to sell fell by one day compared to January, from 47 to 46, still above the five-year median average of 41 days across New Zealand.
Canterbury/Westland recorded the shortest days to sell at 35 days (down four days), followed by Nelson/Marlborough with 37 days (down 20) and Auckland with 38 days (plus one day.)
Northland recorded the longest number of days to sell at 71 days (down one) followed by Waikato/Bay of Plenty at 65 day (plus two) and Taranaki at 64 days (plus 11).
Across New Zealand the total value of residential sales, including sections, was $2.66 billion in February, up from $1.72 billion in January and $1.91 billion in February 2011.
The majority of properties sold in February 2012 were under $400,000 (59.7%), followed by $400,000-$599,999 (24.6%), $600,000-$999,999 (12.5%) and $1 million-plus (3.2%).