Thursday September 20, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A jump in sales of previously occupied homes and further gains in home construction suggest the U.S. housing recovery is gaining momentum.

The pair of reports Wednesday follows other signs of steady progress in the housing market after years of stagnation. New-home sales are up, builder confidence has reached its highest level in more than six years and increases in home prices appear to be sustainable.

Sales and construction rates are still below healthy levels, economists caution. But the improvement has been steady.

And the broader economy is likely to benefit. When home prices rise, Americans typically feel wealthier and spend more.

"We have a real housing recovery taking root, and that has positive implications for the broader economy," said Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets. "If home prices continue to rise, so, too, will household wealth and consumer confidence."

Sales of previously occupied homes rose 7.8 percent in August from July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.82 million, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday. That's the highest level since May 2010, when sales were aided by a federal home-buying tax credit.

U.S. builders broke ground on 2.3 percent more homes and apartments in August than July. The Commerce Depart ment said the annual rate of construction rose to a seasonally adjusted 750,000. The increase was driven the best rate of single-family home construction since April 2010.