The National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home Sales Index is a forward-looking indicator of future home sales based on the number of contracts to buy houses that are signed each month. In July, the index rose 3.3 percent, marking the fourth time in five months contract activity has increased. The index is now at its highest level since August of last year. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said favorable housing conditions are behind the gains. Specifically, Yun noted lower mortgage rates, moderating price growth, and rising inventory as some of the factors driving a recent uptick in sales and general optimism about the housing market’s health. The increase in the number of new and existing homes for sale is creating less competition and is giving prospective buyers more time to review their options before submitting an offer, Yun said. Regionally, the index showed large gains in the South, West, and Northeast. The Midwest, on the other hand, was relatively flat, dropping 0.4 percent from the previous month.