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Paul Sakuma  /  AP
The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes rose in November to the highest level in a year and a half.
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updated 12/29/2011 10:18:35 AM ET 2011-12-29T15:18:35

The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes in November rose to the highest level in a year and a half.

Normally, that would signal better home sales. But a growing number of buyers are canceling their contracts at the last minute, making the gauge less reliable.

The National Association of Realtors says its index of sales agreements jumped 7.3 percent last month to a reading of 100.1.

A reading of 100 is considered healthy. The last time the index was that high was in April 2010, one month before a federal home-buying tax credit expired.

Contract signings usually indicate where the housing market is headed. There's a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed deal.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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