WASHINGTON, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Contracts to buy previously owned homes unexpectedly fell in July, the fourth decrease in five months as the housing market continues to struggle with a shortage of properties coming up for sale.
The National Association of Realtors said on Thursday its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed last month, declined 0.8 percent to a reading of 109.1. June was also revised slightly lower to a reading of 110.0.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast pending home sales rising 0.5 percent last month. Across the country's four regions, contracts only rose in the West.
Compared to one year ago, pending sales were down 1.3 percent.
Pending home contracts become sales one or two months later, and last month's decline is the latest in an uneven run of housing data. Housing demand has been buoyed by a strengthening economy and low unemployment, but a lack of inventory has pushed up prices.
"The pace of new listings is not catching up with what's being sold at an astonishingly fast pace," NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said.
Pending home sales in the West edged up 0.6 percent in July. They declined 0.3 percent in the Northeast, 0.7 percent in the Midwest and 1.7 percent in the South.
Yun added that the impact from Hurricane Harvey on the Houston region, with homeowners suffering extensive flooding, would likely weigh on sales over the coming months.
Houston is the nation's fourth-largest city. (Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Andrea Ricci)