Pending home sales improved further in December, marking the fifth gain in the past six months, according to the National Association of Realtors®. The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) increased 2.0 percent to 93.7 based on contracts signed in December from a downwardly revised 91.9 in November. The index is 4.2 percent below the 97.8 mark in December 2009. The data reflects contracts and not closings, which normally occur with a lag time of one or two months. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, credits good affordability conditions and economic improvement. “Modest gains in the labor market and the improving economy are creating a more favorable backdrop for buyers, allowing them to take advantage of excellent housing affordability conditions. Mortgage rates should rise only modestly in the months ahead, so we’ll continue to see a favorable environment for buyers with good credit,” he says. The PHSI in the Northeast increased 1.8 percent to 73.9 in December, but is 5.3 percent below December 2009. In the Midwest, the index rose 8.0 percent in December to 84.6, but is 5.1 percent below a year ago. Pending home sales in the South jumped 11.5 percent to an index of 101.9 and are 1.7 percent above December 2009. In the West, the index fell 13.2 percent to 105.8 and is 10.7 percent below a year ago.