The National Association of Realtors, amid the organization's annual convention in Las Vegas, today reported that its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in September, rose 0.2% to a reading of 85.7 from 85.5 in August, 20.4% lower than the September 2006 level of 107.6.

The pending sales index in the Midwest rose 5.4% in September to 82.3 but is 14.4% below a year ago. In the South, the index increased 1.5% to 99.3 but is 19.7% lower than September 2006. The index in the West slipped 0.1% in September to 80.5 and is 25.6% below a year ago. In the Northeast, the index dropped 10.1% in September to 69.5 and is 23.1% below September 2006.

The pending sales index, which normally is released the first week of each month, was held back so it could be announced together with the NAR's updated forecast at the convention. That forecast was revised downward for the ninth straight time, with the Realtors now predicting that existing-home sales for 2007 will come in at 5.67 million this year, down from last month's forecast of 5.78 million. The NAR also cut its forecast for 2008 to 5.69 million from an estimated 6.12 million last month.

NAR also predicted that existing-home prices will decline 1.7% to a median of $218,200 for all of this year and hold essentially even in 2008 at $218,300. Those figures stand in marked contrast to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, which reported last month that prices are down 4.4% for the year in the 20 metro markets it measures.

NAR also took down its estimates for new homes sales for 2007 to 796,000, down from an estimate of 805,000 last month, and to 693,000 next year, down from the 752,000 the NAR forecast issued in October. NAR expects starts, including multifamily, to be down to 1.35 million this year and 1.14 million in 2008, down from 1.80 million in 2006. The group put the median new-home price down 1.6% to $242,500 in 2007 and expects a rise of 0.4% to $243,600 in 2008.

The NAR did state that its seers are divining some signs of stability returning to the market. "Some markets are still going strong, such as Austin and Raleigh, while others are showing early signs of recovery, like Denver and Boston," said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun. But the press release issued by NAR contained a single independent clause that told the real story: "No real improvement is seen for new homes until 2009," it said. And Yun added, "A significant rise in foreclosures in some areas could delay the recovery."