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WASHINGTON — The number of contracts to purchase previously owned US homes jumped in May by the most in more than four years, a sign the residential real estate market is rebounding after a slow start to the year.

The pending home sales index climbed 6.1 percent, the biggest advance since April 2010, after a revised 0.5 percent increase in April, the National Association of Realtors said.

The gain exceeded the most optimistic estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists, whose median forecast called for a 1.5 percent gain.

Housing demand is benefiting from cheaper borrowing costs, a stronger employment outlook, and easier access to credit for some households.

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At the same time, higher prices and limited income gains are keeping the improvement in residential real estate from becoming more broad-based.

Pending home sales climbed in all four regions, led by an 8.8 percent gain in the Northeast. Contract signings increased 7.6 percent in West, 6.3 percent in the Midwest, and 4.4 percent in the South.

Bloomberg News