Builders began work on more new homes in June than any month since the housing market collapsed four years ago, federal numbers show.

The Northeast, including New Jersey, saw the best gains in single-family homes with a 26 percent jump from May. But new apartments dominate the market now.

There were 760,000 new-home starts in June, the most in any month since October of 2008, seasonally adjusted figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce show.

Among them, apartment buildings fared best with 22 percent more new construction than in May. Single-family homes were up 5 percent over May.

Permits for new construction were down about 4 percent from May to June. But they remained 19 percent higher than a year ago.

The National Association of Realtors will release its monthly report Thursday on previously owned or existing homes.

National figures were encouraging, said Rick Van Osten, spokesman for the Builders League of South Jersey.

“In talking to builders, things did seem to pick up,” he said. “Hopefully, this is the start of something that will continue the rest of the year.”

The housing industry has been the beneficiary of record-low interest rates while at the same time attracting fewer potential buyers who can meet the stricter lending requirements of banks.

Van Osten said it is not surprising to see the greatest gains from apartments compared with townhouses, condos or single-family homes. New construction for projects of five or more units was up 29 percent from 2011 compared with single-family homes, which were up 24 percent.

“Five years ago, there weren’t any new apartments being built anywhere in South Jersey. Now it seems every week someone is proposing one,” he said. “The national rental market is hot.”

Likewise, the National Association of Home Builders this week said builder confidence in July was at its highest since March 2007.

The association surveys builders each month to gauge current sales, prospects for future sales and traffic among buyers to develop its confidence rating.

“If people are secure in their jobs, it makes the decision about purchasing a new home easier,” Van Osten said. “People are being bombarded by negative news and stories of their friends getting laid off or having a tough time finding a job. It all enters the psyche.”

Christie Redner, director of sales for Schaeffer Family Homes, said they are seeing more buyer interest this year.

“We just finished in Egg Harbor Township with two settlements in June at the Woods on Zion,” she said. “We have a community in Hammonton called Walden Commons. We opened in mid-January and sold 10 homes since then.”

Redner said the biggest threat to builders in southern New Jersey will be the backlog of foreclosures expected to hit the market this year.

New Jersey foreclosures were up 66 percent in the first quarter of 2012, according to RealtyTrac, the foreclosure market information service. The state’s court-ordered moratorium on foreclosure processing was lifted last fall. New Jersey still has a big backlog of cases that could take years to wind through the judicial system.

The average processing time now for a foreclosure in New Jersey is two-and-a-half years.

“That’s going to be our competition. A lot of foreclosures are about to hit the market in New Jersey,” she said. “Our prices have come down but the volume of sales will stay there.”

Contact Michael Miller:

609-272-7217