U.S. builders started work on homes in December at the fastest pace since the summer of 2008 and 2012 finished as the best year for residential construction since the start of the housing crisis.

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The Commerce Department says builders broke ground on houses and apartments at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 954,000. That was up 12.1 percent from November's annual rate of 608,800.

For the year, builders started work on 780,000 homes. That's an increase of 28.1 percent from the 608,800 homes started in 2011 and the most since 2008 — shortly after the housing bubble burst.

Steady job gains, record-low mortgage rates and a tight supply of new and previously occupied homes available for sale have the housing market recover.

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