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Contracts to buy US homes rose for 1st time in 9 months in March, pointing to higher sales

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WASHINGTON - More Americans signed contracts to buy homes in March, the first increase since June and a sign that the housing market may pick up after a sluggish start to the year.

The National Association of Realtors says its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index rose 3.4 per cent to 97.4 last month. Still, the index remains 7.9 per cent below its level a year ago.

Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases: A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a signed contract and a completed sale.

The gain in signed contracts partly reflects a recovery from the harsh winter. Snowstorms and freezing temperatures kept many potential buyers away from open houses. Since last summer, a limited supply of available homes has pushed up prices and discouraged many buyers.

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