Home builder sentiment held at a record low for a third consecutive month in December, weighed down by problems in the mortgage market and a huge supply of unsold houses, an industry group said on Monday.

The National Association of Home Builders said its preliminary NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index was unchanged at 19 in December, remaining at its lowest reading since the gauge started in January 1985.

The December index was in line with expectations based on a Reuters survey of economists.

Readings below 50 indicate more builders view market conditions as poor than favorable.

Builders continue to look for signs of improvement in the ongoing mortgage market crisis that is weighing on housing and the overall economy, NAHB President Brian Catalde, a home builder from El Segundo, California, said in a statement.

The gauge of current single-family homes sales rose to 19 from 18. The index of sales expected in the next six months rose to 26 from 24. The prospective-buyer traffic measure declined to 14 from 17, the group said.

Today's report shows that builders' views of housing market conditions haven't changed in the past several months, and there clearly are signs of stabilization in the HMI, NAHB Chief Economist David Seiders, said in a statement.

Builders at this point are preparing themselves for the winter months, which is traditionally a slow time for home buying. They are trimming their inventories and positioning for the time when market conditions can support an upswing in building activity, which will most probably be in the second half of next year, he said.

On Tuesday, investors will get more insight into the hard-hit U.S. housing market when the Commerce Department releases November data on housing starts and building permits.

A Reuters survey forecasts November housing starts fell to 1.18 million units from 1.229 million units in October. Building permits are seen dropping to a 1.15 million unit pace from a 1.170 million unit level in October.

(Reporting by Julie Haviv; Editing by Tom Hals)