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Another sign the housing market is picking up this spring: Pending home sales rose in March and were sharply higher than a year ago.

Pending sales of existing homes rose 4.1 percent in March, according to the National Association of Realtors. The D.C.-based trade group said pending sales were up 12.8 percent from a year ago. Pending sales represent contracts signed but sales not yet closed, a better gauge of the current market.

“First-quarter sales closings were the highest first quarter five years,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun. “The latest contract signing activity suggests the second quarter will be equally good.”

Pending sales rose the most in the West, up 8.7 percent from the previous month. In the South, which includes the Washington region, pending sales were up 5.9 percent in March and up 10.6 percent from a year earlier.

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