For the first time in seven years, most U.S. homebuilders are optimistic about home sales, a sign that construction could help drive stronger economic growth in coming months.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Monday leaped to 52 this month from 44 in May. It was the largest monthly increase since 2002.

A reading above 50 indicates more builders view sales conditions as good, rather than poor. The index hasn't been that high since April 2006, just before the housing market collapsed.

Measures of customer traffic, current sales conditions and builders' outlook for single-family home sales over the next six months also soared to their highest levels in seven years.

The housing recovery is looking more sustainable and should continue to boost economic growth this year, offsetting some of the drag from higher taxes and federal spending cuts.

Steady hiring and low mortgage rates have encouraged more people to buy homes. The increased demand, along with a tight supply of homes for sale, has pushed home prices higher. That's made builders more optimistic about the market for newly built homes, leading to more construction and jobs.

In April, applications for new home construction reached a five-year peak. And sales of new homes rose to a seasonally adjusted rate of 454,000, nearly matching the fastest pace since July 2008. Sales are still below the 700,000 pace considered healthy by most economists.


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But they have risen 29 percent in the past year.