WASHINGTON-- U.S. builders began construction on new homes in October at a faster pace than expected, according to a report recently released by the Commerce Department.

The Commerce Department said U.S. housing starts hit a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.552 million units, outpacing the 1.513 million projected by U.S. economists in a Reuters survey.

Housing starts were down 1.3% from the rate of 1.572 million recorded in September. Housing permits fell 3.6% to an annual rate of 1.473 million in October, the weakest pace since December 1997. In September, permits came in at 1.528 million.

Regionally, housing starts in the Midwest during October rose 14.3%. In the Northeast, they rose 5.3%. Starts were flat in the South and plummeted 16.7% in the West. Permits rose 9.9% last month in the Northeast. But they fell in all other regions of the country, down 11.4% in the West, 4.2% in the Midwest and 1.6% in the South.