Two better-than-expected reports out Thursday showed the U.S. housing sector continued to sizzle and underpin the economic recovery in August.

Sales of existing U.S. homes rose 5.5 percent to a record pace in August, the National Association of Realtors (search) said on Thursday.

Sales of already owned homes climbed to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.47 million units from a revised 6.13 million unit rate the month before. The number easily surpassed expectations of analysts polled by Reuters who forecast a rate of 6.05 million homes.

The median sales price of pre-owned homes shrank to $177,500 in August, down 2.3 percent from the same month a year earlier.

In another report, the government said sales of new U.S. homes in August rose to the second highest rate on record.

New single-family home sales (search) gained 3.4 percent in August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.15 million from a downwardly revised 1.11 million June pace, the Commerce Department (search) said.

Wall Street economists had expected homes sales to slow to a 1.12 million unit pace from July's previously reported 1.17 million.

While the number of homes on the market at the end of last month hit its highest level since July 1996 at 347,000, the inventory as measured against August's sizzling sales pace — second only to the 1.18 million rate hit in June — held steady at a lean 3.7 months' supply.

Sales in August picked up sharply in the Midwest and Northeast, where gains close to 13 percent were seen, and were up 2.4 percent in the West. However, sales dipped 1.1 percent in the South, the region with the largest volume of sales.

Rates on 30-year mortgages in August stood about 1 percentage point above the low of 5.21 percent reached in June, according to home financing giant Freddie Mac (search). Still, rates are low by historic standards and many economists look for a record level of housing activity this year.

The department said the average sales price for a home dipped to $237,500 in August from $251,800 in July.