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story.lead_photo.caption This “sale pending” sign sits in front of a home in Westfield, Ind. A gauge of U.S. pending home sales unexpectedly declined in September for the first time in months. (AP/Michael Conroy)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The pending sales of existing homes fell 2.2% in September, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday, the first monthly contraction of that figure in four months.

The report is the latest indicator that showed the housing market cooled in September after being strong throughout the summer. Sales of existing homes fell in September as well, the association reported earlier this month, and the Commerce Department said sales of newly built homes fell in September, too.

Despite the modest decline, contract signings are still up 20.5% from a year earlier, the industry trade group said.

"The demand for home buying remains super strong, even with a slight monthly pullback in September, and we're still likely to end the year with more homes sold overall in 2020 than in 2019," Lawrence Yun, the association's chief economist, said in a statement. "With persistent low mortgage rates and some degree of a continuing jobs recovery, more contract signings are expected in the near future."

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Three out of the four regions tracked by the association saw monthly declines. Only the Northeast reported a month-over-month gain.

More homebuyers are at risk of being priced out of the market if the volume of available properties remains limited and causes bidding wars. While the borrowing costs are low, higher asking prices can make it more difficult for buyers to come up with down payments.

The government's first estimate of third-quarter gross domestic product underscored the recent strength in housing. Residential investment jumped an annualized 59.3%, the fastest since 1983, Commerce Department data showed Thursday. Gross domestic product rose at a record 33.1% annualized rate during the period.

A separate report on Monday showed that purchases of new single-family houses declined slightly from a near 14-year high but remained elevated, another evidence of the strong appetite in residential real estate.

Information for this article was contributed by staff members of The Associated Press and by Henry Ren of Bloomberg News.


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