Home Sales up 8.2 Percent Heading into Spring

In this photo made Feb. 22, 2010, a sold sign sits outside a new home in Houston. Sales of new homes plunged to a record low in January, underscoring the formidable challenges facing the housing industry as it tries to recover from the worst slump in decades.(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
The number of buyers who agreed to purchase previously occupied homes rose sharply in February, far exceeding expectations, in a sign that the U.S. housing market may be coming back from the winter doldrums.

The National Association of Realtors said Monday its seasonally adjusted index of sales agreements rose 8.2 percent from January to a February reading of 97.6. January's reading was revised slightly downward to 90.2.

The report "may signal the early stages of a second surge of home sales this spring," said Lawrence Yun, the trade group's chief economist.

Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected the index would fall slightly to 90.3. The index is considered a barometer for future sales activity because there is typically a one- to two- month lag between a signed sales contract and a completed deal.

A reading of 100 is equal to the level of sales activity in 2001, when the index started.

Home sales had been sluggish during the winter, partly because shoppers felt less rushed after lawmakers extended the deadline to qualify a tax credit. First-time buyers can get a tax break of up to $8,000 if they sign a contract by April 30. Lawmakers also added credit of $6,500 for existing homeowners who move.

The biggest month-to-month increase was in the Midwest, where pending sales rose by nearly 22 percent. Sales posted gains of 9 percent gains in the South and Northeast, but fell nearly 5 percent in the West.