Americans ramped up their purchases of new homes in April to the highest level since January 2008, evidence of a strong start to the spring buying season.

The Commerce Department says new home sales jumped 16.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted rate of 619,000, up from just 531,000 in the previous month. March's total was revised higher.

Steady job gains and low mortgage rates have encouraged more Americans to buy new homes. That trend is driving home construction and helping support the economy.

The new home sales figures are notoriously volatile, particularly on the regional level. Last month, new home purchases leapt 53 percent in the Northeast and 19 percent in the West. They fell 5 percent in the Midwest and jumped 16 percent in the South.