Realtors High on Pending Sales Data, but Housing Signals Mixed

March was "noisy," but experts differ on what contradictory real estate data is really telling us.

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A home under contract in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J.

Is the housing market in good shape or is it retreating back into recession territory? That's the question on many observers' minds as they try to sift through several reports this week that gave a somewhat murky picture of the state of the housing market.

First, the good news. The National Association of Realtors announced Thursday that pending home sales—a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings—rose more than 4 percent in March to its highest level since April 2010.

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That means more Americans are going from window shoppers to would-be buyers, which could help whittle away the supply of homes for sale and potentially boost values overall.

"The housing market has clearly turned the corner. Rising sales are bringing down inventory and creating much more balanced conditions around the county, which means home prices will be rising in more areas as the year progresses," NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement.

But there are a host of factors that might rain on that parade, experts say.

Just this week, the widely followed Case-Shiller Home Price Index showed that values continued to erode in many metropolitan areas, with prices falling to a near-decade low nationally. Several cities registered new post-crisis lows on the index, further evidence that the "housing market bottom" remains elusive.

Sales of new homes also disappointed this week, dropping more than 7 percent in March after a healthy gain in February. Overall, sales are still way short of the 700,000 or so units experts consider evidence of a "healthy" housing market.

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Still, most experts remain confident that the housing market is on track and attribute some of the less-than-stellar housing data in March to "noise" caused by the unusually mild winter and small sample sizes.

"March may be more of a 'noisy' month, rather than a break in momentum," a recent report from Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft noted.

Meg Handley is a business reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. You can also reach her at