- Associated Press - Thursday, December 20, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sales of previously occupied homes jumped to their highest level in three years last month, bolstered by steady job gains and record-low mortgage rates.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales rose 5.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.04 million in November. That’s up from 4.76 million in October.

Previously occupied home sales are on track for their best year in five years. November’s sales were the highest since November 2009, when a federal tax credit that was soon to expire spurred sales. Excluding that month, last month’s sales were the highest since July 2007.

Sales are up 14.5 percent from a year ago, though they remain below the roughly 5.5 million that are consistent with a healthy market.

Job growth and low home-loan rates have helped drive purchases. Prices also are rising, which encourages more potential buyers to come off the sidelines and purchase homes, and more people may put their homes on the market if they feel confident they can sell at a good price.

In addition, the excess supply of homes that built up during the housing bubble finally has thinned out. The number of previously occupied homes available for sale fell to a 10-year low in October. The supply of new homes is also near its lowest level since 1963.

At the same time, more people are looking to buy or rent a home after living with relatives or friends during and immediately after the Great Recession.

These trends have supported a steady recovery in housing. Builder confidence rose in December for a seventh straight month to the highest level in more than 6½ years, according to a survey released Tuesday by the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo.

The pace of home construction slipped in November, but it was still nearly 22 percent higher than a year earlier. Builders are on track this year to start work on the most homes in four years.

Economists note that the increase in building should lead to more construction jobs, though it hasn’t yet done so. That could mean more construction hiring is coming.