Sales of existing single-family homes jumped in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5,860,000, third highest ever, according to the National Association of Realtors. The figure was up 5% from November’s upwardly revised number and a whopping 13% from the December 2001 pace. For all of 2002, sales reached a record of 5,563,000, 5% above the 2001 total. The median sales price rose by 7% from 2001 to 2002 for both the month and the year as a whole.

The news follows a recent government report that housing starts in December hit a 16-year high of 1,835,000 at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, 5% above the November level and 16% higher than in December 2001. Both single-family and multi-unit housing rose nationally. In addition, building permits, a reliable indicator of starts in the near future, rose to a 16-year high in December, up by 8% from November’s revised rate and 10% from December 2001.