The Twin Cities housing market produced one of its biggest gains in sales and prices last month, building on the momentum of the recovery.

November sales rose 20 percent compared with November 2011, to 3,843 closings, while the median price jumped 17 percent to $173,000.

"Buyers and sellers are totally engaged; it feels like 2003 again," said Todd Shipman of Lakes Sotheby's International Realty. "And December is shaping up to be even better."

The gain largely represents a change in the mix of what's selling. During November, traditional sales increased more than 50 percent, while foreclosure sales fell 15 percent.

"Traditional sellers are beginning to step back into the field," said Cari Linn, president of the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors and a sales agent with Coldwell Banker Burnet. "Price gains, combined with more competition among buyers for less supply, should be appealing to homeowners looking to make a move in the near future."

Traditional listings, like the cozy south Minneapolis bungalow that Stephanie and Ryan Coogan put on the market last month, represented 64 percent of sales, while foreclosures fell to almost 25 percent of all deals.

Stephanie Coogan said she and Ryan were nervous about listing their house so late in the year, but they'd already found another house they wanted to buy. The couple listed their 2,400-square-foot home for $424,900 on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Just a few hours after it went on the market, they got a full-price offer from the first person who looked at it.

"We weren't sure what would happen," Stephanie Coogan said of the house two blocks from Lake Harriet. "We were prepared for it to sell quickly, or just let it sit there."

Shipman, the agent who listed the Coogans' house, said there's evidence that improvements in the local economy and corresponding declines in the unemployment rate are having a positive effect on the market. There are an increasing number of relocation buyers on the hunt for houses that are in move-in condition, he said.

"The new norm is that stuff that's really great looking and well put together -- even if only on the surface -- is selling," he said.

That's why market times are on the decline. Listings that closed last month took an average of 104 days to sell, 26 percent faster than last year. And sellers received, on average, more than 94 percent of their list price, up from 90.9 percent last year.

Those shifts are happening as buyers realize they're facing a shortage of options. With sales on the rise and new listings still meager, the number of homes for sale last month fell nearly 30 percent to the lowest level since January 2003.

"As a whole, 2012 brought colossal change to our housing market, which is continuing today," said Andy Fazendin, MAAR's president-elect. "We remain optimistic for 2013."

Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376