It’s telling that the number of new-home sales in 2012 was both the third worst year on record and yet a significant improvement from the year before. 

Those numbers, released today by the U.S. Census Bureau, painted the picture of an industry slowly struggling to its feet. Overall, sales totaled 367,000—up from 2011’s record low of 306,000. By the end of the year, inventory had sunk to a 4.9-month supply, compared with a 5.4-month supply a year earlier, and the median number of months for sale since completion had shortened to 4.6 months, compared with 6.7 months at the end of 2011. 

Prices also picked up last year, with the average price improving 7.7% for the year and a 7.0% improvement in the median price. 

The Census Bureau’s report also included new-home sales numbers for the month of December, which were down 7.3% to an annual rate of 369,000; however, the poorly estimated figure was not statistically significant. The report was also softened by upward revisions to sales estimates for September, October, and November, which brought sales in the second half of the year up nationally and in all of the four regions, compared with earlier data that showed sales flattening in the second half.

See the Census Bureau’s full report on new-home sales in December and 2012. 

Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder.