WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people who signed contracts to buy homes rose in December, marking the fifth increase in the past six months.
The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that its index of sales agreements for previously occupied homes rose 2 percent last month. The index had posted a 3.1 percent increase in November.
Economists have cautioned that a big reason for the jump is that people are buying foreclosed homes. Still, the increase is likely to give the weak housing market a boost in the first few months of the year. That's because there's usually a one- to two-month lag between a sales contract and a completed deal.
The number of Americans who bought previously owned homes last year fell to the lowest level in 13 years, and economists say it will be years before the housing market fully recovers.
High unemployment and a record number of foreclosures are deterring potential buyers who fear home prices haven't reached the bottom. Job growth is expected to pick up this year, but not enough to raise home sales to healthier levels.
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