For builders wary of reports that the housing market is back on the rebound, January’s new-home sales numbers offered an excuse to get optimistic.

Sales of new homes jumped 15.6% last month compared with December, rising to an annual rate of 437,000, according to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. Year over year, sales were up 28.9%. December’s numbers too were revised up by 9,000 sales, though November’s estimate was moved down by 5,000. Improvements swept across all four regions, and the months’ supply fell to 4.1, the lowest level seen since March 2005. 

Even after disclaiming that the new-home sales figures are not very well estimated, Patrick Newport and Stephanie Karol, economists at IHS Global Insight, admitted that “it’s OK to hi-five January’s numbers,” in a release discussing the numbers today. 

“Prior to this release … the new sales numbers were not rising fast enough to justify the pickup in builder sentiment and single-family housing starts over recent months. January’s new-home sales figures tell us that builders were justified in ramping up on starts and that they are likely to pick up the pace this year, since inventories remain lean.”

Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder.