The recent blizzard may have temporarily slowed sales across much of the United States, but newly released figures from the U.S. Commerce Department reveal that new home sales are on the rise.

Newly built, single-family home sales rose 17.5 percent in December. This impressive gain was thanks in part to an unexpectedly strong rise in the Western region.

Regionally, the West saw a 71.9 percent gain in December, though according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and their chief economist, David Crowe, Sales in the West may have gotten a boost from contracts being signed ahead of costly building code changes going into effect in some states this January. Crowe noted that issuance of building permits was also up substantially in that region at the end of the year.

The Midwest saw a 3.2 percent gain. The South rose by 1.8 percent. The only region that saw a decline was the Northeast at 5.0 percent.

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), After six very tough months, the housing market ended the year on an upbeat, with signs of stabilization beginning to take hold in many markets. That said, the nationwide inventory of new homes for sale is now at its thinnest level in more than 40 years. This is a sign that many builders still cannot obtain the credit they need to meet anticipated improvements in buyer demand in 2011.

Another positive trend has been reported in the Remodeling market.

Remodelers are starting to see an uptick in interest from consumers who are considering future remodeling projects, said NAHB Remodelers Chairman Bob Peterson, CGR, CAPS, CGP, a remodeler from Ft. Collins, Colo. Home owners are also showing more willingness to undertake larger remodeling projects. Regionally, increases were seen in both the Midwest and the South.

Activity has been rising slowly over the last year, and according to the NAHB, improvements in the economy and job market stand to increase the remodeling market even more. And the job market is improving, at least according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Health care employment is trending upward, adding 11,000 jobs over the last month. Rises were also seen in manufacturing and retail sales.

The unemployment rate is now 9.0 percent, down 0.4 percent from December.