In a sign of a still struggling housing market, signed contracts to buy existing homes were essentially flat in September from August, edging up just 0.3 percent according to a monthly index from the National Association of Realtors.
The index is 14.5 percent above September of 2011. Closings, the final stage of an existing home sale, fell in September, with Realtors continuing to cite tight credit as a headwind to recovery.
"Home contract activity remains at an elevated level in contrast with recent years, but currently appears to be bouncing around in a narrow range," wrote NAR's chief economist Lawrence Yun in a release. "This means only minor movement is likely in near-term existing-home sales, but with positive underlying market fundamentals they should continue on an uptrend in 2013."
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Contract activity has increased on an annual basis for seventeen straight months, but is fluctuating month to month and region to region. The Realtors' index of so-called pending home sales rose 1.4 percent month-to-month in the Northeast, fell 5.8 percent in the Midwest, rose 1 percent in the South and rose 4.3 percent in the West. The western region, which includes some of the hardest hit states of the housing crash, was the only region to see nearly flat gains from a year ago. That is do to low supplies of distressed properties.
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Investors have focused their attention and cash on formerly hard hit cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas and several California cities.
The National Association of Realtors estimates that completed existing home sales in 2012 will total close to 4.6 million, an increase of 9 percent from 2011. Lower housing inventories, they also predict, should push existing home prices up 6 percent this year nationally.