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.

Regionally, the seasonally adjusted index rose 21.8 percent in the Midwest, 9.2 percent in the South, and 9 percent in the Northeast while falling 4.8 percent in the West in February compared to the same month in 2009.

And the index rose 18.9 percent in the Northeast, 18.7 percent in the Midwest, 17.5 percent in the South and 14.6 percent in the West year-over-year in February, NAR reported.

In its latest forecast report, NAR anticipates that existing-home sales will rise 6.5 percent this year and 3.7 percent in 2011, with new, single-family home sales rising 0.6 percent this year and 56.9 percent in 2011.

The association’s latest annual forecast revises upward the new-home sales projection, which it said in a previous forecast would fall 12.4 percent this year and rise 49.4 percent in 2011.

The median price of existing-home sales is expected to rise 2.7 percent this year, to $177,200, and another 4.3 percent in 2011, to $184,800. And NAR expects the new-home median price will also rise 2.7 percent this year, to $221,700, and to rise 5.1 percent, to $233,100. In its previous forecast, NAR projected a 2 percent rise in the new-home price this year.

NAR projects unemployment will average 9.8 percent this year, and fall slightly to 9.7 percent in 2011. U.S. gross domestic product is expected to grow 2.6 percent this year and 2.7 percent in 2011, according to the NAR forecast, and the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is expected to average 5.4 percent this year and 6.2 percent next year.


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