updated 8/4/2009 11:10:18 AM ET 2009-08-04T15:10:18

Pending U.S. home sales rose in June for the fifth straight month, another encouraging sign of life for the embattled U.S. housing market, the National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday.

For June, the Realtors group said its pending home sales index rose 3.6 percent to 94.6, from an upwardly revised reading of 91.3 in May. The last time there were five consecutive monthly gains was July 2003.

The results were far better than analysts expected. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected the index to come in at 91.2.

The report tracks signed contracts to purchase previously owned homes and is considered a barometer for future home sales. Typically there is a one- to two- month lag between a sales contract and a completed deal.

The jump in pending home sales coincides with other positive trends in the residential real estate market.

"The housing market is healing and the patient is getting healthier at an accelerating pace," said economist Joel L. Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors Inc.

For the first time in five years, home resales have risen for three months in a row, increasing almost 4 percent in June. Low prices, attractive mortgage rates and a first-time homebuyers tax credit of up to $8,000 have kick-started sales.

"Because housing is so affordable in today's market, job security and the first-time buyer tax credit are bigger factors in influencing home sales," said Lawrence Yun, the Realtors group's chief economist, in a statement.

Also Tuesday, homebuilder D.R. Horton Inc. said its fiscal third-quarter losses shrank from the year-ago period, as it took smaller charges against the falling values of its land and unsold homes.

D.R. Horton's results followed similar numbers from Pulte Homes Inc. and Centex Corp., which reported quarterly earnings Monday that showed new-home orders picked up during the first half of the year.

Yun said he expects existing home sales to gradually rise over the balance of the year, with conditions varying around the country.

"It appears home sales are on a sounder footing and inventory is gradually being absorbed," he said.

Regionally, the pending home sales index jumped 7.1 percent to 100.7 in the South and 2.9 percent to 100.4 in the West. The index inched up 0.4 percent to 81.2 in the Northeast, and up 0.8 percent to 89.9 in the Midwest.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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