A home for sale in Springfield, Ill. (Seth Perlman/AP)

The increase to a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.03 million sales exceeded forecasts of economists surveyed by MarketWatch, who expected the rate to be 4.8 million. The increase follows July’s eight-month low of 4.67 million.

The NAR’s chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement that rising rents, low mortgage rates and increased investor interest in gobbling up foreclosed properties may account for the uptick.

Growth was the slowest in the Northeast, which experienced disruptions in August due to Hurricane Irene. The gains were by far the largest in the West, where sales surged 18.3 percent from the previous month and 20.6 percent from the previous year.

The news comes on the heels of a report Tuesday from the Commerce Department that showed that builders broke ground on a seasonally adjusted 571,000 homes in August, a 5 percent dip from the previous month’s number.

The discouraging data on home sales comes despite record-low mortgage rates. Last Thursday, Freddie Mac reported that the average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.09 percent, the lowest rate since they began tracking the data.