The national housing market staged a modest recovery during February, when compared with the previous month, but the market is still below the same time last year, Real Estate Institute figures show.

The national median increased $10,000 to $350,000 from January, but overall transactions were still 4.3 per cent below last year, and homes took longer to sell than February 2010 - 58 days compared to 46 days.

The REINZ Housing Price Index rose 2.3 per cent in February compared with January 2011, with the stratified median house price just below $360,000.

Real Estate Institute chief executive Helen O'Sullivan described the data as a "mixed bag" for the sector.

"February's transaction volumes were always going to be an improvement on January, but the improvement in the raw medians in most districts as well as in the stratified median prices is a positive sign."

The recovery in transaction volumes in Auckland where 1591 homes were sold and Manawatu/Wanganui with 249 transactions was encouraging, she said.

Overall 4502 houses were sold in New Zealand last month.

ANZ economist Sharon Zollner said the data gave the first inkling about the impact of the February 22 earthquake on the Canterbury housing market.

"Not surprisingly, house sales were down sharply. In Canterbury, seasonally adjusted sales fell 28 per cent.

"Given that major insurers have now stopped offering new insurance policies in Canterbury (and in some cases further afield) until they have more information about their own reinsurance terms, the housing market in Canterbury will remain in stasis for some time yet."

The Real Estate Institute said caution was required when analysing the data because of the number of Christchurch offices who were unable to file returns for February.

Goldman Sachs economist Philip Borkin said the housing market, excluding Canterbury, reversed January weakness, though the level of activity remained subdued.

Median house prices would remain under "modest downward pressure" until the second half of this year, he said.

Meanwhile reports from members indicated that buyers were still being cautious despite rent rises in key urban areas and a continuing shortage of housing stock in places like Auckland, O'Sullivan said.

"This is evident in the increased days to sell, which measures the time between the property being listed and an unconditional sale being completed. Equally, vendors are not under pressure to sell and landlords are successfully increasing rents, albeit by small increments," she said.

O'Sullivan said the Reserve Bank's move to cut the Official Cash Rate provide some encouragement to buyers, but also made it easier for owners to hold onto their property if they don't see the pricing they expect.

Across New Zealand the total value of residential sales, including sections rose to $1.92 billion in February 2011, compared to $1.3 billion in January 2011.

- NZ HERALD ONLINE