Fewer signed contracts to buy US homes in December

A real estate sign hangs on a fence in front of a home in the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson, Getty Images

WASHINGTON - Fewer Americans signed contracts to buy previously occupied homes in December, suggesting a slowdown in real estate. Pending home sales fell to the lowest point since October 2011. 

The National Association of Realtors says its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index dropped 8.7 percent last month to 92.4. That's the seventh straight monthly decline for the index, which previews upcoming sales. A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a signed contract and a completed sale. 

Rising mortgage rates and price increases crimped sales in recent months. Cold weather in December also stalled home purchases. 

The housing market benefited from historically low mortgage rates for much of last year. Sales of previously occupied homes totaled 5.1 million in 2013, the highest in seven years, the trade group said last week.