Housing starts logged their biggest gains in more than seven years in September, the Commerce Department reported.

Ground breaking for new homes jumped 13.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.843 million units last month—the highest level since June 1986—from an upwardly revised 1.627 million rate in August. It was the biggest monthly increase since a 14.1 percent climb in July 1995. Single-family home starts hit their fastest rate since November 1978.

The starts forecast far exceeded expectations of many analysts. Single-family housing starts, the biggest category of building, rose to a 1.477 million unit annual rate, a level not seen since the Carter administration. Multifamily starts fell 4.4 percent.

Starts gained across the country, rising 9.5 percent in the Northeast, 9.8 percent in the South, 11.4 percent in the Midwest and 24.2 percent in the West. The Commerce Department said developers’ inventories of single-family houses permitted, but not started, hit the highest level in more than 15 years in August—101,000 units. However, that level dropped to 90,600 units in September. That reduction in inventories helped boost the single-family starts number in September, the department said.

Economists have been forecasting that 2002 will be an all-time record home-selling year.