Still, the increases in new-home sales are coming from depressed levels. Sales plummeted to a record low in 2011. And sales are still well below the 700,000 annual level that economists consider healthy.
The biggest gain in new-home sales was in the West, where they soared 45.3 percent. The supply of previously occupied homes in that region has fallen sharply. Sales jumped 27.6 percent in the Northeast, 11.1 percent in the Midwest but only 3.2 percent in the South.
A separate report Tuesday showed that home prices accelerated in December. The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 6.8 percent in December compared with the same month a year earlier. That's up from November's 5.5 percent gain over the previous November.
Rising home prices can fuel the housing recovery by encouraging people to buy before prices increase further. They can also bring more sellers off the sidelines.
Higher home values also make homeowners feel wealthier, building confidence and encouraging more spending. And banks are more likely to provide mortgage loans if they are confident that home prices are rising.