A National Association of Realtors index tracking pending sales of existing homes increased 4.3 percent in August but fell 20.1 percent compared to the same month last year, the trade group announced today.

NAR’s latest economic forecast, also released today, anticipates a 6.4 percent drop in existing-home sales this year compared to 2009, to 4.82 million, with the median price of existing homes up 0.2 percent, to $172,900.

NAR forecasts existing-home sales to rise 7.1 percent in 2011 and 4.3 percent in 2012, with the median price up 0.5 percent in 2011 and 2.3 percent in 2012.

In a previous forecast, released last month, NAR projected a 4.8 percent drop in existing-home sales and a 0.1 percent rise in the median existing-home price.

That earlier report also forecast existing-home sales to grow 10.7 percent in 2011 and 1.1 percent in 2012, and for the median price of resale homes to rise 0.9 percent in 2011 and 2.1 percent in 2012.

In NAR’s latest forecast, new single-family home sales will fall 13.4 percent this year, to 325,000 sales, while housing starts will grow 11.3 percent and the new-home median price will dip 0.4 percent, to $215,000.

New single-family home sales are projected to grow 28.9 percent in 2011 and 28 percent in 2012, with the new-home price rising 2.4 percent in 2011 and 4.9 percent in 2012.

NAR anticipates the national unemployment rate will average 9.7 percent this year and slide back to 9.5 percent in 2011 and 9 percent in 2012, with the interest rate for 30-year fixed rate mortgages averaging 4.7 percent this year, 5 percent in 2011 and 5.9 percent in 2012.

U.S. gross domestic product is forecast at 2.7 percent this year — after a 2.6 percent decline in 2009 — and is also expected to grow at 2.4 percent in 2011 and 2.8 percent in 2012.

Regionally, NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index — which gauges existing-home sales contracts that have been signed but not yet closed — rose 6.7 percent in the South, 6.4 percent in the West, and 2.1 percent in the Midwest while falling 2.9 percent in the Northeast in August 2010 compared to July 2010.

The index dropped 28.8 percent in the Northeast, 26.5 percent in the Midwest, 19.6 percent in the West and 13.1 percent in the South year-over-year in August, NAR also reported.

Last month, the National Association of Realtors reported that the rate of existing-home sales was near a record low in August, and the rate of new-home sales held level in August with a 40-year historic low.

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