A leading indicator of existing-home sales was down 8.5% in February from the level recorded a year ago, signaling that the prime homebuying season in March and April will be less than robust and could be disappointing for sellers.The National Association of Realtors reported that its pending sales index rose 0.7% in February to 109.3 -- but the index level was down 8.5% from that of February 2006. NAR chief economist David Lereah blamed the decline in the index, which tracks sales contracts that are expected in close in the next 30-60 days, mainly on "unusually bad weather" in February. He noted that the contraction in subprime lending could be a factor, too. "We also may be seeing some fallout from decline in subprime lending, but a slight improvement in the more volatile month-to-month index is encouraging," Mr. Lereah said. "The data suggests an underlying stabilization is taking place in the housing market, but it will take another month or two to clarify." NAR economists estimate that tighter underwriting of subprime loans could reduce new- and existing-home sales by 100,000 to 250,000 annually over the next two years. The NAR can be found online at http://www.realtor.org.

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