Sales of single-family homes in Massachusetts increased by nearly 20 percent last month, the strongest March showing since the recession and an indication the housing market is slowly recovering from years of erosion.
The 3,205 homes sold marked the third consecutive month of increases and highest number of March sales since 2007, according to the Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks real estate.
At the same time, the median price of a single-family home fell last month to $260,000, compared with $268,750 in March 2011 - a 3.3 percent drop. Still, that was an improvement from February, when the median price sank to $245,000 - the lowest value since 2002.
Timothy M. Warren Jr., chief executive of the Warren Group, said that even as the number of home sales increases, he does not expect prices to start rising until next year.
“Confidence is returning to the market, and not just the real estate market, but the economy in general,’’ Warren said. “In the 1990s, the last time we had a significant real estate slump in Massachusetts, home sales volumes started to pick up for two years before median prices stopped being negative. So it’s not unusual to see this lag in the two indices.’’
Warren said sellers in some “hot’’ communities have received better prices for their homes compared with last year, another indication that a turnaround may be underway. A review of February new-home listings in communities with healthy sales - Arlington, Brookline, Hingham, Manchester, Middleton, Somerville, and Walpole - found 22 percent of all sellers got their asking price this year, compared with 7 percent during the same period in 2011.
Barry Bluestone, dean at Northeastern University’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, said he believes the housing market has finally reached its bottom.
The combination of low median sale prices - which he does not expect to keep dropping - and low interest rates means that prospective buyers who have been delaying making a decision should consider acting now, he said.
“These may be the lowest prices you’re going to see in a long time,’’ Bluestone said. “Once you see the purchasing, you have this increase in demand that begins to stabilize and shore up prices. I expect that when we see the numbers for April, May and June, we will see prices rise again.’’
Massachusetts condominium sales increased last month, too, by 11.4 percent to 1,189, compared with March 2011, the Warren Group said. Condo sales during the first three months of 2012 increased by 8 percent statewide compared with 2011, to 2,983. The median condo price was $265,000, compared to a median condo price of $230,000 in March 2011.
Also on Tuesday, the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices reported that housing values fell 3.5 percent nationwide over the last year. In the Boston area, home values fell 1.1 percent from January to February and declined 2.4 percent over the year ended in February. Still, Boston home values remain above their 2009 low, according to S&P/Case-Shiller, which is widely considered the most reliable barometer of the housing market.