A National Association of Realtors index that gauges pending sales of existing homes rose 17.3 percent year-over-year in February and rose 8.2 percent from the January level.

The association also updated its annual economic forecast, which raises expectations for new single-family home sales this year.

The Pending Home Sales Index, based on purchase contracts signed but not yet closed, is considered to be a leading indicator for future sales. An index score of 100 is the average level of contract activity in 2001, the first year that index data was collected.

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