By Les Christie@CNNMoneySeptember 19, 2012: 12:05 PM ET
Homes in Best Places: What $500k buys
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)
The U.S. housing industry -- crucial to any jobs recovery -- showed more signs of strength, according to two reports issued Wednesday.
The Census Bureau said housing starts and permits rose substantially in August. Separately, sales of previously occupied homes climbed 7.8% from a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Builders started on new homes at an annual rate of 750,000, up 29.1% compared with a year earlier. They applied to build another 803,000 new homes on an annual basis, a 24.5% jump compared with August 2011.
Home builders have become increasingly bullish -- a confidence index from the National Association of Home Builders reached its highest level since June 2006.
Even after recent gains, housing starts lag well behind the peak set in May 2005, when the pace of building hit more than 2 million homes.
If sales continue to gain steam, that could help the nation break out of its economic doldrums. Home building provides many good-paying jobs, about three hires for every home built in a year, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
A rebound would create other jobs too: factory jobs at carpet and furniture makers, for example. Truckers get work transporting all those goods.
Most housing markets around the nation have reached a good balance between sellers and buyers, according to the Realtors' chief economist, Lawrence Yun. There's a 6.1 month supply of homes on the market at the current pace of sales. That's down from 6.4 months in July and 8.2 months a year earlier. The lower supply provides some support for prices.
The Fed's move "provided the financial support to the mortgage market and signaled an intention to keep rates low for the foreseeable future," said John Tashjian, who runs a real estate investment fund, Centurian Real Estate Partners.
According to Tashjian, the real benefit of the Fed's action could be to increase lending volume. The banks, knowing that any well underwritten mortgage will find a ready market, should be more willing to approve mortgages.
Prices are on the upswing as well. They have benefited from a change in the mix of homes sold with distressed properties -- repossessed homes and short sales -- accounting for only 22% of total sales, down from 31% last August.
The median home price grew 9.5% year-over-year to $187,400. That marked the sixth consecutive month of price increases, the first time that has happened since May 2006, near the very peak of the housing price boom.