Mortgage rates are not specifically under the control of the Federal Reserve, and they are subject to a wide variety of market forces. But they remain near historical lows and home prices are still well below their peaks in most markets, meaning that housing is still relatively affordable for many Americans.

Stuart Miller, the chief executive of the Lennar Corporation (LEN), one of the country’s top home builders, credited recent gains to an improving economy, pent-up demand and a severe housing shortage after so little was built during the recession.

"Inventories are low for both new and existing homes, as well as for rentals," said Miller, whose company reported a 53% rise in revenue in the second quarter compared with the same period a year earlier. "The monthly payment math continues to push families to find a way to purchase."