A measure of the number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes rose in January from December to the highest level in more than 2 ½ years. The increase suggests sales of previously occupied homes will continue rising in the coming months.
The National Association of Realtors says its seasonally adjusted index for pending home sales rose 4.5 percent last month to 105.9. That's the highest since April 2010, when a homebuyer's tax credit was about to expire.
There is generally a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed sale.
Sales of previously occupied homes ticked up in January after rising to their highest level in five years in 2012. Steady hiring and near record low mortgage rates have encouraged more Americans to buy homes.
"Housing market activity appears to have ended 2012 on a positive note and is off to a strong start in 2013," Cooper Howes, U.S. economist at Barclays Capital, said in a note to clients.