Sales of new U.S. homes accelerated strongly in December, a sign that home-buying may improve this year after a lackluster 2014.

The Commerce Department says new home sales climbed 11.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 481,000. The gains were not enough to offset essentially flat home-buying over the course of 2014. Just 435,000 new homes were bought last year, a modest 1.2 percent improvement from 2013.

The growth in December pointed to rising sales in 2015, buoyed by the combination of strong hiring in recent months and drastically lower mortgage rates. Home values are also rising at a slower pace, improving affordability for would-be buyers.