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Signed contracts to buy US homes at 6-year high

Thursday - 6/27/2013, 6:08pm  ET

A home is for sale in Glenview, Ill., on Sunday, June 16, 2013. Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages surged the week of June 24, 2013, to their highest levels in two years, and the rate on the 30-year loan jumped by the most in 26 years. The increase is evidence that the Federal Reserve's comments about possibly reducing its bond purchases are already affecting consumers. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER
AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people who signed contracts to buy U.S. homes jumped in May to the highest level in more than six years, a sign home sales will probably rise in the months ahead.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that its seasonally adjusted index for pending home sales rose 6.7 percent to 112.3 last month. That's the highest level since December 2006. Signed contracts have risen 12.1 percent in the past 12 months.

The increase could reflect an effort by potential buyers to complete deals before mortgage rates rose further. Mortgage rates rose in May and then jumped after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested last week the Fed could slow its bond purchases later this year.

The increase points to healthy gains in home sales in the coming months. There is generally a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed sale.

"This report should provide comfort as it shows that housing is still holding in," said Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Still, rising rates could weigh on demand later this year. The average rate on a 30-year mortgage soared this week to 4.46 percent, the highest in nearly two years, according to a report Thursday by mortgage giant Freddie Mac. But rates are still low by historical standards.

"Despite the rise in mortgage rates and house prices, housing affordability will still be well above its long-term average," said Joseph LaVorgna, an economist at Deutsche Bank.

Sales of previously occupied homes jumped above the 5 million mark in May for the first time in 3
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