New home sales in the U.S. rose more than expected in May, with record-low mortgage rates pulling buyers back into a housing market that froze up during the pandemic.

Purchases of single-family houses climbed 16.6% to a 676,000 annualized pace, government data showed Tuesday. The median forecast based on a Bloomberg Survey of economists was for 640,000.

Homebuilders are welcoming buyers back after social-distancing rules across much of the U.S. kept them on the sidelines in March and April. A growing share of buyers are opting for new homes because existing home listings are in short supply. Record-low interest rates have made the properties affordable to a larger share of buyers.

“The fact that we’re reaching the levels we are in a pandemic and a recession is unbelievable,” said Ali Wolf, chief economist at Meyers Research. “Low rates have tilted the equation toward some buyers actually being able to afford a new home.”

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Prashant Gopal in Boston at [email protected]

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