Sales of previously owned homes in the United States surged five percent in December from November, industry data showed Friday, in a report that pointed to recovery in the housing market.

Sales of so-called "existing" homes rose to an annual rate of 4.61 million from a downwardly revised 4.39 million in November, theNational Association of Realtors said.

The NAR number topped analysts' average estimate of 4.55 million.

"The pattern of home sales in recent months demonstrates a market in recovery," said Lawrence Yun, the NAR's chief economist.

"Record low mortgage interest rates, job growth and bargain home prices are giving more consumers the confidence they need to enter the market."

It was the third consecutive month-on-month gain, and the December sales pace was up 3.6 percent from December 2010.

For the full-year, existing-home sales rose 1.7 percent from 2010, the NAR said.

The improving sales trend came as home prices continued to fall as the housing market remains flooded with foreclosed properties and high unemployment and tight credit has left many buyers on the sidelines, despite record-low mortgage rates.

The troubled housing market, which collapsed when a price bubble burst in 2006, remains a key obstacle impeding the economy's full recovery from the 2007-2009 recession.