U.S. home resales rose in April and the supply of properties on the market hit its highest level since August 2012, hopeful signs for the stalled housing market recovery.
Other data Thursday showed a jump in first-time applications for unemployment benefits, although the underlying trend still pointed to a strengthening in labor market conditions.
The National Association of Realtors said existing home sales increased 1.3 percent to an annual rate of 4.65 million units, marking the second increase in sales in nine months.
While that was a bit less than the 4.68 million unit pace economists had expected, it suggested the sector was regaining its footing after stumbling in the second half of 2013 under the weight of higher mortgage rates and house prices.
"The spring housing market may be a little late to bloom but the increase in sales is welcome news showing increased confidence in the economy," said Bill Banfield, vice president of Quicken Loans.
Sales are still down 15 percent from a peak of 5.38 million units hit in July. Compared to April last year, sales were down 6.8 percent.
Expensive home loans and rising home prices have sidelined first-time buyers from the market. Investors also are stepping back.
Though an usually cold winter depressed activity, a dearth of homes for sale also stymied demand. Sales are expected to gradually trend higher for the rest of 2014 as job growth and the overall economy accelerate.
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%And there is reason to be optimistic. The inventory of unsold homes on the market increased 6.5 percent from a year-ago to 2.29 million in April and the median home price increased at its slowest pace since March 2012.
"The sales slowdown experienced is pretty much coming to an end," said Lawrence Yun, the NAR's chief economist.
The months' supply of existing homes increased to 5.9 months, the highest since August 2012, from 5.1 months in March. Six months' supply is normally considered a healthy balance between supply and demand.
"The biggest story to come out of this report is the boost in home inventory, which has been one of the key issues holding back both buyers and sellers in the first part of this year," Banfield said.
In a separate report, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 28,000 to 326,000 for the week ended May 17. The four-week average, which irons out week-to-week volatility, rose by only 10,500.
Last week's claims data covered the survey period for May nonfarm payrolls. With claims rising between the April and May survey periods, job growth probably slowed from April's brisk 288,000 gain in April.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 13,000 to 2.65 million in the week ended May 10.
House Rich: Neighborhoods With the Biggest Price Jumps
Existing Home Sales Rebound, Jobless Claims Tick Up
Year-over-year gain: 21.5%
Median sale price, Jan. 2013: $224,450
Median sale price, Jan. 2014: $272,750
Residents enjoy hundreds of nearby hiking trails, as well as indoor culture at the Fine Arts Center and the Colorado Springs Philharmonic.
Year-over-year gain: 22%
Median sale price, Jan. 2013: $318,375
Median sale price, Jan. 2014: $388,500
This neighborhood, bounded by the Schuylkill River and 20th Street, and by South Street and Christian Street, was viewed as a slum in the 1970s, when Philadelphia's Redevelopment Authority took over abandoned properties.
Year-over-year gain: 24.2%
Median sale price, Jan. 2013: $516,450
Median sale price, Jan. 2014: $641,500
Magnolia covers 4 square miles, making it the second-largest Seattle neighborhood by area. It features a lighthouse built in 1881 and is home to Seattle's largest park, at 534 acres.
Year-over-year gain: 32.1%
Median sale price, Jan. 2013: $210,446
Median sale price, Jan. 2014: $277,898
Paradise Valley, in the heart of the Scottsdale-Phoenix area, gets an average 294 days of sunshine a year -- hence, the more than 200 golf courses.
Year-over-year gain: 32.2%
Median sale price, Jan. 2013: $344,750
Median sale price, Jan. 2014: $455,835
The Washington Post listed Sunset Hills among "the shortest commute" category of Virginia neighborhoods, with an average commute time of just over 21 minutes. And Dulles International Airport is about six miles away.
Year-over-year gain: 44.5%
Median sale price, Jan. 2013: $247,735
Median sale price, Jan. 2014: $357,900
This once-seedy area has become hot in recent years. It's packed with art galleries and chic retail shops, as well as new upscale bars and restaurants next to venerable family-owned cafeterias.
Year-over-year gain: 46.9%
Median sale price, Jan. 2013: $284,750
Median sale price, Jan. 2014: $418,250
Brighton, once the center of New England's cattle trade, is in the northwest corner of Boston, on the Charles River. The Brighton Branch Library is Boston's first renovated LEED Green Building. The Brighton Police station is shown here.
Year-over-year gain: 47.5%
Median sale price, Jan. 2013: $223,175
Median sale price, Jan. 2014: $329,100
South Loop joins a number of other once-blighted neighborhoods on this list that have been redeveloped and are now hot. The site of former rail yards, it was known for many years more for its vices (as in brothels, burlesques) than its residential virtues.
Year-over-year gain: 48.7%
Median sale price, Jan. 2013: $241,000
Median sale price, Jan. 2014: $358,450
Also: Fairgrounds, San Jose (41.4%); La Jolla, San Diego (40%); Woodland Hills, Los Angeles (37.5%); Southwest Anaheim, Anaheim (35.2%); Berryessa, San Jose (34.4%).
Newhall, the southernmost and oldest district of Santa Clarita, was the first permanent Anglo settlement in the valley. Ranches-turned-film studios dot the area, including the Melody Ranch, which was once owned by Gene Autry. The ranch hosts the annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival.
Year-over-year gain: 48.8%
Median sale price, Jan. 2013: $504,250
Median sale price, Jan. 2014: $750,275
This is the most affluent neighborhood in Charlotte; the median income is $79,737, according to Zillow. That compares with a median of $46,975 for Charlotte. A high point of the area is the Duke Mansion, built in 1915 by tobacco magnate James Buchanan Duke.
Year-over-year gain: 57.4%
Median sale price, Jan. 2013: $167,450
Median sale price, Jan. 2014: $263,615
People who live here, according to classifications Zillow uses to characterize residents, are likely to be: Corporate Climbers, Multi-lingual Urbanites or in a category called "Bright Lights, Big City," which Zillow uses to describe "singles ranging in age from the early 20s to mid-40s who have moved to an urban setting."
Year-over-year gain: 97.3%
Median sale price, Jan. 2013: $668,250
Median sale price, Jan. 2014: $1,318,301
New York City’s 92-acre planned community includes areas built on more than 3 million cubic yards of soil and rock, some of which was excavated during the construction of the World Trade Center.
Bloomberg ranked neighborhoods in U.S. cities based on the year-over-year increase in median home sale prices from January 2013 to January 2014. Percentage increases were based on Zillow calculations of median sale prices of all home types and calculated only for neighborhoods with at least 10 sales per month. Only neighborhoods with median home sale prices of at least $250,000 in January 2014 were included. Data were rounded.