This home in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, had a sale pending this month. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

This home in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, had a sale pending this month. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Contracts to buy US homes hits highest level since April

By Paul Wiseman, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — More Americans signed contracts to buy homes last month as warm weather and rising confidence appeared to encourage consumers to look for houses.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that its pending home sales index climbed 5.5 percent in February to 112.3, its highest point since April and its second-highest point since 2006.

Lawrence Yun, the Realtors’ chief economist, suggested that a rising stock market had helped bolster confidence. “Last month being the warmest February in decades also played a role in kick-starting prospective buyers’ house hunt,” Yun said.

In addition, rising prices may have nudged some Americans into making offers for homes now out of fear of having to pay more if they wait.

The NAR’s index of pending home sales rose 11.4 percent in the Midwest, 4.3 percent in the South, 3.4 percent in the Northeast and 3.1 percent in the West.

The U.S. housing market is looking strong despite a sharp rise in mortgage rates since the presidential election. The average on a benchmark 30-year fixed rate loan was 4.23 percent last week, up from 3.54 percent the week before the Nov. 8 vote.

Investors bid up rates in part out of expectation that President Donald Trump’s plans to cut taxes and increase spending on defense and infrastructure would raise economic growth and inflation.

The Realtors reported last week that sales of existing homes fell in February after having surged in January to the fastest pace in a decade. Sales were still up solidly from a year earlier.

The supply of homes for sale is tight and is helping to drive prices up and affordability down. The number of listings for sale has tumbled 6.4 percent over the past year to 1.75 million homes last month, up only slightly from a record low in January.

The supply of homes for sale has fallen on an annual basis for the past 21 months.

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