The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes rose in November, the fourth increase since hitting a low in June. Even with the gains, this year is shaping up to be the worst for home sales in 13 years.
The National Association of Realtors says its index of sales agreements for previously occupied homes increased 3.5 percent last month from a downwardly revised reading in October. Contract signings were up in the West and Northeast, but down in the South and Midwest.
Signings are 22.1 percent above June's index reading, which was the lowest level since the private group began tracking the data in 2001. But signings are 5 percent lower than November 2009 when buyers were scrambling to close purchases to qualify for the first federal tax credit.
Completed home sales — which the Realtors group measures in a separate report — are expected to total about 4.8 million units this year. That's much lower than the 6 million units that analysts consider a healthy pace. The last time sales were lower was 1997 when sales totaled 4.4 million units.
A third of the pending sales likely will be foreclosures or short sales, where a homeowner sells a house for less than what is owed on it, the NAR spokesman Walter Molony said. That tracks with the average for the year. These distressed sales go for discounts of up to 50 percent in some of the hardest-hit areas and will continue to weigh down home prices.