The Houston Association of Realtors says while home sales slipped back below their levels from last year following a strong January, home prices have continued to improve.HAR says single-family home sales during the month were down 2.2 percent compared to February of last year. Most of the declines were seen in the usually popular mid-priced homes market, while more people purchased both inexpensive and luxury properties.Despite the drop, the prices of Houston homes continued to appreciate. According to the report, the average price jumped 6.6 percent from last year to more than $214,000. The median price rose nearly 4 percent to $151,900 last month. Both figures were the highest ever recorded for the month of February in Houston.”The February housing report is encouraging if you recall that a year ago the federal government was rolling out the first-time homebuyer tax credit, and consider the fact that homebuyers today face more stringent lending guidelines than ever before,” said Carlos P. Bujosa, HAR chairman.Sales of Houston foreclosures showed sharp declines compared to last year, falling off more than 16 percent last month. Foreclosed properties, which sold for a median price of $79,000, made up 21.5 percent of homes sold during the month, down from nearly 25 percent in January.Home rentals also continued to be strong, which HAR says may eventually translate into sales as buyers shore up their finances. Single-family rentals were up 20 percent compared to the same month last year, while townhouse and condo rentals were up nearly 16 percent.Despite the drop-off in sales, analysts were still positive about the overall health of the Houston real estate market over the next few months as the weather continued to warm.”Factors that give us cause for at least cautious optimism in the months ahead are that local employment figures have been strong and that we are about to enter the spring home buying season,” Bujosa said.Those jobs numbers have continued to outpace the rest of the country. The Texas Workforce Commission recently estimated that local companies added more than 46,000 jobs from December 2009 to December 2010. That increase of 1.8 percent was larger than anticipated, as the unemployment rate dropped from 8.8 to 8.3 percent during the year.