A leading indicator of existing-home sales recorded its biggest gain in nearly three years in December, although it was still below the level recorded a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors.The NAR reported that its index of pending home sales rose from 107.2 in November to 112.4 in December, a 4.9% increase, but it was down 4.4% from the level of December 2005. It was the biggest increase since March 2004, when the index rose 6.9%. NAR chief economist David Lereah said the moderate rise in resale contracts is a welcome relief for the real estate markets. "Some of the monthly gain may be weather-related, but it appears buyers are becoming more comfortable, sensing the timing is good and that their local market has bottomed out," Mr. Lereah said. The NAR index rose 8.1% in December in the Northeast, 5.3% in the West, 4.3% in the South, and 3.2% in the Midwest. The NAR can be found online at http://www.realtor.org.

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