WASHINGTON -- Sales of new U.S. single-family homes jumped to a six-year high in May, the latest indication the housing market was starting to dig out of a recent soft patch.
The Commerce Department said Tuesday sales surged 18.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 504,000 units. That was the highest level since May 2008, while the increase was the biggest since January 1992.
April's sales pace was revised down to 425,000 units from a previously reported 433,000 units.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast new home sales rising to a 440,000-unit pace last month.
Compared to May last year, sales were up 16.9 percent, pointing to some momentum in the new homes market. New home sales are, however, very volatile because of the small size of the sample.
Higher mortgage rates and a surge in prices amid a dearth of properties available for sale have weighed on the housing market since the second half of 2013. But as mortgage rates level off, signs of life are emerging.
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%A report Monday showed sales of previously owned homes, the largest segment of the housing market, recorded their largest increase in more than 3½ years in May.
Last month, new home sales increased in all four regions. They hit a six-year high in the Midwest, while sales in the South were the highest since June 2008.
The inventory of new houses on the market was unchanged at 189,000 units. At May's sales pace it would take 4.5 months to clear the supply of houses on the market, the fewest since June 2013. That was down from 5.3 months in April.
With inventories still tight, the median price of a new home last month increased 6.9 percent from May of last year. The pace of appreciation, however, is slowing. That should help to stimulate demand for houses.
House Rich: Neighborhoods With the Biggest Price Jumps
New Home Sales Hit 6-Year High in May
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.