Fewer prospective buyers signed home purchase contracts in December, according to data released today by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The association’s Pending Home Sales Index declined by 3.5% for the month to a reading of 96.6. The index, which reflects pending sales but not closings, remained 5.6% higher year-over-year.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist at NAR, remained undaunted by the slip. "Even with a modest decline, the preceding two months of contract activity are the highest in the past four years outside the home buyer tax credit period," he said in a press statement today.

Still, the lower numbers are particularly unwelcome news in a month when 33% of Realtors polled by NAR reported contract failures—compared to only 9% in December 2010—leaving open the question of how many signings will make it to the finish line.

Regionally, only the Midwest saw an uptick in pending sales for the month, gaining 4.0% to an index reading of 95.3. Annually, the region was up 13.3%. The Northeast moved down 3.1% on a monthly basis and was down 0.8% annually for an index reading of 74.7. The South was down 2.6% from November and up 4.9% year-over-year for an index reading of 101.1. The West was down 11.0% for the month and up 3.7% annually, for a reading of 107.9.

Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Greenville, SC.