Sales of previously owned homes climbed more than expected last month to the fastest pace in nearly a decade even as home prices climbed by the most in a year.

Existing home sales rose 3.3 per cent in January from the previous month to an annualised pace of 5.69m units, according to the National Association of Realtors. That was above the 1.1 per cent rise that economists had forecast.

“Much of the country saw robust sales activity last month as strong hiring and improved consumer confidence at the end of last year appear to have sparked considerable interest in buying a home,” Lawrence Yun, chief economist, said. “Market challenges remain, but the housing market is off to a prosperous start as homebuyers staved off inventory levels that are far from adequate and deteriorating affordability conditions.”

A regional breakdown showed that home sales climbed the most in the West and increased in every region except the Midwest.

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