WASHINGTON — It’s been a long time since the market for new homes has looked this good.

Rising rents and a healthier job market are inspiring more people to consider buying. Builders are responding to the demand by laying plans for more homes this year than at any other point in the past 3½ years.

And banks are helping both by approving more loans.

All that points to a better year for the housing market, though a full recovery could take several years.

“We’re doing so much more business than we have in years,” said Ed Kopal, who runs a construction company in East Texas and has seen his business more than double this year compared with 2011.

Others, too, foresee more enthusiasm among buyers after four sluggish years.

Builders requested a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 747,000 permits to build homes in March, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. The pace hasn’t been that high since September 2008.

Of those requested, 462,000 permits were to build single-family homes. That’s 12 percent more than just six months ago. Still, the figure remains far below the 800,000 permits a year that signify a stable new-home market.

Builders are seeing more demand for apartments, too. Over the past six months, permits to build apartments have surged 68 percent, to 285,000 permits. A healthy number is closer to 400,000 a year.

Rents are rising, which has spurred construction for both kinds of homes.

So while apartment developers are chasing higher rents, renters are seeing more incentive to buy homes. A survey of home builders has shown an increasing amount of foot traffic at open houses across the country since September.

Record-low mortgage rates have helped persuade buyers. The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate loan is just above the 3.87 percent level reached in February, the lowest since long-term mortgages were first offered in the 1950s.

Banks are also seeing more qualified buyers apply for loans. Two of the nation’s biggest banks – JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo – approved more mortgage applications in the first-quarter, based on their recent earnings reports.

“The ones buying now are older, they’ve saved up for a while, they have good jobs, they are not risky,” said Karen Mayfield, senior vice president of Bank of the West, a national bank lender based in San Francisco.