Tim Haas and Joyce Thompson, of Patchogue, tour a house...

Tim Haas and Joyce Thompson, of Patchogue, tour a house during an open house Sunday, March 15, 2015, in Medford. It is being marketed by Gordon Lewis of Realty Connect USA. Credit: Johnny Milano

Long Island's housing market accelerated last month, with sale prices rising and more buyers signing contracts.

In Nassau County, homes sold for a median price of $408,500, up 3.5 percent compared to the previous February, according to a report Monday by the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island. The number of sales increased by 3.4 percent, to 662.

Suffolk County median home prices climbed by 6.7 percent, year over year, to $320,000, even as the number of homes sold fell by 5.5 percent, to 706.

In both counties, the number of homes going into contract made sharp gains. There were 826 home sales contracts signed in Nassau last month, up more than 30 percent compared to the same period in 2014. Suffolk home buyers were busy too, signing 871 contracts, nearly 20 percent more than in the previous February.

First-time home buyers "seem to be driving the market right now," said John Fitzgerald, an owner of Hauppauge-based Realty Connect USA, which has offices in Nassau and Suffolk counties. "Everybody has had that same feeling, that at some point in time the interest rates may change, they may go up, so this is the best time to buy."

The average national rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 3.86 percent last week, down 0.51 percentage point compared to a year before, according to mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

Brokers cautioned that it's tricky to compare last month's sales to the same period a year earlier, as Long Island was hit by even more snow in February 2014 than it was last month. The National Weather Service recorded nearly 24 inches of snowfall in Upton in February 2014, compared to 15.2 inches last month.

The last two stormy winters have discouraged buyers and sellers alike, said Frank Paruolo, broker-owner of Century 21 Bay's Edge Realty in Sayville and president of the Island's listing service.

Last month's rise in signed contracts is a sign of "pent-up demand," Paruolo said.

"I think it's going to be a stronger spring, I think we're going to see more inventory coming out, I think we're going to see more buyers coming out," he said. "I think it's going to be a healthy market."

The number of Long Island homes on the market rose by 1.7 percent, year over year, to nearly 15,000. It would take nearly nine months to sell all the homes listed for sale in Nassau and nearly 13 months in Suffolk, at the current pace of sales. A balanced real estate market has a six- to eight-month supply of homes, brokers say.

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