By Jeffry Bartash
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) – Sales of new U.S. homes jumped 15.6% in January to an annual rate of 437,000 to mark the highest pace of activity since July 2008, according to Commerce Department data released Tuesday. The rate of sales in January easily surpassed the 384,000 estimate of economists polled by MarketWatch. What’s more, December sales were revised up to 378,000 from an initial read of 369,000. The numbers are seasonally adjusted. The median price of new homes, however, fell more than 9% to $226,400 in January from $249,800, indicating that buyers flocked to less expensive properties. Sales rose the fastest in the West, up 45.3%, and they also climbed 27.6% in the Northeast. Sales might have benefited in the Northeast from unseasonably warm winter weather that persisted from December into early January. The supply of new homes available for purchase fell to 4.1 months at the current sales rate from 4.8 months in December – the lowest level since early 2005. New home sales are almost 29% higher compared to one year ago.