Sales of newly built homes rose unexpectedly last month, bucking a cooling trend in the housing recovery.
New homes sales rose 9.6 percent from December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 468,000, the U.S. Commerce Department said Wednesday. Sales are up 2.2 percent from a year earlier.
Economists had expected sales to fall last month, but instead they rose to the highest level since July 2008. The unexpected surge injects fresh optimism into a cooling housing market.
The figures follow a string of dour housing reports that indicated falling demand. Economists have blamed cold weather across much of the country, in addition to other factors. Higher mortgage rates and prices have priced many out of a market with too few homes for sale.
But January's new home data may signal buyers can adjust to the new reality. December's figures were also revised up from an annual rate of 414,000 to 427,000.
Sales rose from December in all regions except the Midwest, where they fell 17.2 percent. Sales surged 73.7 percent in the Northeast and rose 11.0 percent in the western U.S.