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Pending home sales fall by most in a year but improve from 2011

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Pending home sales — the measure of how many Americans signed contracts to buy previously owned homes — tumbled last month in the steepest fall in more than a year.

The index of resales slid 5.5% in April after gaining 3.8% in March to nearly a two-year high, the National Assn. of Realtors reported. The index factors in agreements to buy houses, which translate into actual contract closings a month or two later.

However, compared with a year earlier, April’s index is up 14.4%. And contract signings are up compared with the downer days between 2008 and 2011.

While month-to-month numbers slid everywhere except the Northeast, every region performed better this spring than they did in the same period in 2011. In the West, April's pending sales slumped 12% compared with March but jumped 5.1% compared with last April.

Other recent reports have found home sales rising along with housing starts, permits and builder confidence. Mortgage rates are at record lows and vacancy and foreclosure rates are moderating.

“Home contract activity has been above year-ago levels now for 12 consecutive months,” said Lawrence Yun, the association’s chief economist, in a statement. “The housing recovery momentum continues."

The group’s forecasts are also optimistic. They predict 4.66 million existing home sales this year compared with 4.26 million last year. They’ll reach 4.92 million next year — more if lending improves, less if higher taxes and sharp spending government cuts are rolled out.

With less inventory, home prices are also expected to rise, according to the association. The median value will increase 2% to 3% this year and 4% to 5% next year, with double-digit growth in cities such as Phoenix and Miami. Such a boost could significantly reduce the number of underwater homeowners, Yun said.

At the moment, home prices are at post-bubble lows, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index released Tuesday. But researchers and analysts said that report signaled stability in the market and possible future growth.

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