Central Texas existing-home sales jumped nearly 38 percent in October as buyers took advantage of a federal tax credit for first-time homeowners and favorable mortgage interest rates.

It was the biggest year-over-year per centage gain in more than four years and encouraging news for a housing market that struggled for much of 2009.

The Austin Board of Realtors reported Wednesday that 1,823 single-family homes were sold last month, compared. with 1,322 in October 2008.

Pending sales — transactions expected to close in November — were up 47 percent, an indicator of another strong month.

Much like the Cash for Clunkers rebate program spurred car sales earlier this year, the tax credit has drawn hundreds of thousands of first-time buyers nationwide into the market.

The credit was set to expire November 30 but recently was extended through April 30, with a new provision that allows a smaller credit for some move-up buyers.

Last month, 64 percent of sales were for homes priced between $100,000 and $249,999 a typical range for first-time buyers.

The median price was $182,000, down 5 percent from a year earlier.

Experts say the tax credit, along with low mortgage rates, will continue to feed sales in the coming months.

Dallas-area home sales were up only 11 percent last month, for example, the first gain since September 2008. After being down sharply in the first half of the year, Austin-area home sales have been improving since July.

New tax credit details

Who qualifies: First-time buyers and people who have occupied their house for five of the past eight years.

Income limits: Single filers who make $125,000 or less, or $250,000 for couples. Amount 10 percent of the sales price, up to $8,000, for first-time buyers; up to $6,500 for repeat buyers.

Deadlines: The home must be under contract before April 30, and the closing must occur by June 30.