WASHINGTON — Purchases of new homes unexpectedly climbed in January to the highest level in more than five years, showing underlying strength in the industry even in the midst of unusually harsh weather.

Sales increased 9.6 percent to a 468,000 annualized pace, exceeding the highest estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg and the most since July 2008, figures from the Commerce Department showed Wednesday in Washington. Demand improved in three of four regions.

Home remodeling companies such as Mohawk Industries Inc. remain upbeat about the market’s prospects for 2014 as property values climb and the economy improves. Nonetheless, limited housing supply, rising borrowing costs and still-tight credit conditions are preventing the industry from making even bigger strides.

“I’m hopeful the recovery in home sales will get back on track in the next couple of months,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, N.Y., who projected demand would increase. “If we continue to get solid employment growth, which was the trend last year, chances are you’ll see home sales continue their uptrend.”

The median forecast of 82 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 400,000. Estimates in the survey ranged from 380,000 to 442,000. December sales were revised up to 427,000 from an originally reported 414,000 pace. For all of 2013, demand jumped 16.3 percent to 428,000, the most in five years.

The median sales price rose 3.4 percent last month from January 2013 to $260,100, Wednesday’s report showed.

The Northeast led the advance last month with a 73.7 percent surge, the biggest since July 2012. Sales climbed 11 percent in the West and 10.4 percent in the South. They dropped 17.2 percent in the Midwest.

New-home sales are tabulated when contracts are signed, making them a timelier barometer than existing homes.

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