Sales of U.S. existing homes soared by a record 16.2 percent in January to a strongest-ever pace of 6.04 million units, amid mild weather and rebounding consumer confidence, a trade association said Monday.

Previously owned homes, the largest category of home sales, eclipsed the previous record -- a seasonally adjusted annualized pace of 5.49 million units -- set in August 2001, the National Association of Realtors said.

January's pace crushed forecasts of analysts polled by Reuters, who had expected a pace of 5.25 million units.