WASHINGTON (AP) - Americans rushed to buy new homes in December at the strongest pace in 10 months, a sign of the positive momentum carrying the housing market in 2016.

WASHINGTON (AP) Americans rushed to buy new homes in December at the strongest pace in 10 months, a sign of the positive momentum carrying the housing market in 2016.

The Commerce Department says new-home sales surged 10.8 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 544,000. It was the third consecutive monthly gain since sales collapsed in September. The increase nearly pulled the sales rate even with the level of 545,000 in February 2015.

Sales of new homes accelerated sharply in 2015, rising 14.5 percent on the entire year. Steady job growth that cut the unemployment rate to a healthy 5 percent has given many homebuyers increased confidence, while relatively low mortgage rates improved affordability.

The median new-home sales price has fallen 4.3 percent from a year ago to $288,900.