WASHINGTON - U.S. sales of new homes surged in August, led by a wave of buying in the West and Northeast.
The Commerce Department said Wednesday that new-home sales climbed 18 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 504,000. The report also revised up the July sales rate to 427,000 from 412,000.
Newly constructed homes sold at the fastest clip since May 2008. It's a sign that the real estate market might improve after the rebound from the housing bust stalled during the past year because of sluggish wage growth and rising prices.
In the West, August purchases of new homes soared 50 percent compared to the prior month. Off the sharp August increase, sales in the West have nearly doubled in the past 12 months.
Between August and July, sales grew 29.2 percent in the Northeast. Buying increased 7.8 percent in the South and remained flat in the Midwest.
The housing market has sputtered for much this year. A nascent recovery in sales and prices began to struggle toward the middle of 2013. Ferocious winter weather delayed construction and limited sales at the beginning of 2014. Buying did pick up over the summer, yet the pace of sales has been depressed by sluggish wage growth and the surge in prices last year that put homes out of reach for many Americans.
There are a number of signs that another housing uptick may be in the works.
The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index climbed in September to 59, the highest reading since November 2005. Readings above 50 indicate more builders view sales conditions as improving.
That has yet to translate into more construction, however.
In August, homebuilding fell 14.4 percent compared to the prior month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 956,000 houses and apartment complexes, according to the Commerce Department.
Much of that decrease was in the volatile apartments sector. Homebuilders started single-family houses at an annual rate of 626,000 last month, slightly below the pace of 631,000 in August 2013.
Existing home sales have also eased back compared with last year's pace.
Purchases of existing homes fell 1.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.05 million in August, the National Association of Realtors said this week. Sales fell from a July rate of 5.14 million, a figure that was revised slightly downward. Overall, the pace of home sales has dropped 5.3 percent year-over-year.