OTTAWA -- The searing real estate market in Toronto and the surrounding areas helped push home sales up last month to their highest mark in nearly a year, the Canadian Real Estate Association said Wednesday.

Home sales though the MLS system hit levels not seen since last April, gaining 5.2 per cent in February compared to January.

The association said February sales were up from the previous month in about 70 per cent of all local markets it measures, with the national increase driven by the Greater Toronto Area and surrounding regions.

The national average price for a home sold in February was $519,521, up 3.5 per cent from a year ago, boosted by Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto. Excluding those two markets, the national average price was $369,728.

CREA president Cliff Iverson said homes are selling briskly throughout the Greater Toronto Area and nearby communities.

"Elsewhere, competition among potential buyers is less intense, so listings take longer to sell," Iverson said.

CREA reported the number of newly listed homes rose 4.8 per cent in February, led by the Toronto area and nearby markets following a sharp drop in January.

But the amount of time homes were on the market dropped nationally to 4.2 months in February from 4.5 months in January.

The hot market in Toronto has prompted talk about a foreign buyers tax like the one instituted in Vancouver last year.

TD Bank economist Diana Petramala said markets in Ontario have been heating up at an unsustainable pace.

"While TD Economics still doesn't believe we're in a bubble territory, we do think that the market has the potential to increasingly approach one," she wrote in a report.

"In light of mortgage rates remaining low and mortgage regulation changes having negligible impact on home demand, there appears to be no visible brake that would stop this train in this year."

Compared with a year ago, sales in Canada were down 2.6 per cent from February 2016 due to a slowdown in B.C.'s Lower Mainland region, which has seen a significant drop in the pace of sales. The B.C. government brought in a 15 per cent foreign buyers tax in Vancouver last August amid concerns about housing affordability.