Americans signed fewer contracts to purchase existing homes in January, pushing the National Association of Realtors’ pending home sales index down 7.6% to a reading of 90.4, according to data released Thursday.

Industry watchers suggested that the drop might be weather-related. “While modestly disappointing, we believe this decline was partially driven by the prolonged adverse weather conditions throughout the country,” said Michael Rehaut, an analyst with JP Morgan, noting that the index did post a 12.3% annual gain. “… Moreover, given recent positive builder commentary regarding trends in January and February, as well as the February NAHB Survey rising two points, we continue to believe the housing market continues to stabilize, if not slowly reemerge.”

But the housing market remains wobbly and unpredictable, even with the support of an extended and expanded tax credit and low mortgage rates.

“We will see weak near-term sales followed by a likely surge of existing-home sales in April, May, and June,” predicted Yun. “The real question is what happens in the second half of the year. If there is sufficient job creation, housing can become self-sustaining with stable to modestly rising home prices because inventory has been trending downward.”

Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine.