The California Association of Realtors Monday reported that its Pending Home Sales Index rose 20.6% in February from January to a reading of 112.1, a scant 1.6% below the level of February, 2010, when federal and state home buyer tax credits were in effect.

"The increase in pending sales is typical for this time of year, as we usually see a seasonal improvement in the spring," said Beth L. Peerce, C.A.R. President.

The index had been trending mostly downward sequentially since June, 2010, when it was at 114. It slipped to 82.4 in December before moving back up to93.6 in January. On a year-over-year basis, the index has been in negative territory since December, 2009. The 1.6% drop from February 2011 from February 2010 was the smallest over that period.

In the same release, the Realtor group reported data on distressed sales in February, which made up 56 of property sales of all types, up from 54% in January and 55% in February 2010. Of distressed properties sold, the total share of REO (real estate-owned) sales was 33% in February, up from 32% in January but down from 36% in February 2010. Short sales increased to 23%, up from 22% in January and 19% in February 2010.

C.A.R. also said non-distressed properties sold at significantly higher prices than short sales and foreclosures. The statewide median price of non-distressed properties sold in February was $370,000, $95,000 or 34.5% percent higher than the short-sale median price of $275,000 recorded in February, and $170,100 or 85.1% higher than the February REO median price of $199,900.