The Commerce Department said Monday that sales of new homes increased 7.6 per cent in May from April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 369,000 homes. That's the best pace since April 2010, the last month that buyers could qualify for a federal home-buying tax credit.
Even with the gains, the pace is less than half the 700,000 that economists consider to be healthy.
Still, the increase follows other signs that suggest the housing market is rebounding nearly five years after the bubble burst.
Builders are slowing gaining confidence in the market and starting to build more homes. Mortgage rates have plunged to the lowest levels on record, making home-buying more affordable. And sales of previously occupied homes are much higher than the same time last year.
Though new homes represent less than 20 per cent of the housing market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
The gains in new homes sold were concentrated in two regions of the country last month. Sales surged 36.7 per cent in the Northeast and 12.7 per cent in the South. Sales fell 10.6 per cent in the Midwest and were down 3.5 per cent in the West.
The median price of a new home sold in May edged down 0.6 per cent from the April to $234,500. But the price was 5.6 per cent higher than the same month one year ago.
Sales of new homes are increasing despite a sluggish job market, which has slowed retail spending and business investment in computers and machinery. Some economists warned that the weaker job market has also started to affect some home sales.
Sales of previously occupied homes fell in May to a seasonally adjusted sales rate of 4.55 million after nearly touching a two-year high in April.
Still, sales have risen 9.6 per cent from the same month last year.
Hiring slowed sharply in April and May, raising concerns about the strength of the recovery. Employers have added an average of only 73,000 jobs a month in April and May. That's much lower than the average of 226,000 added in the first three months of this year.