U.S. pending home sales decline in January

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WASHINGTON, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Contracts to buy U.S. previously owned homes fell in January amid a continued shortage of houses available for sale.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) said on Thursday its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed last month, dropped 2.8% last month to 122.8. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast pending home contracts, which become sales after a month or two, would be unchanged in January.

Pending home sales have been out of alignment with existing home sales, which have been fairly solid. The NAR has blamed the misalignment on the different sample sizes for the data. Compared to a year ago, pending home sales increased 13.0% in January.

Monthly contracts declined in the Midwest, Northeast and West. They inched up in the South.

Demand for housing is being driven by Americans seeking more space for home offices and schooling as the year-long COVID-19 pandemic drags on. Momentum could, however, ebb in the near term after winter storms severely disrupted activity in Texas and large parts of the densely-populated South region this month. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani Editing by Paul Simao)