NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The number of Americans signing up to buy homes fell in August, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The NAR's Pending Home Sales Index indicates that contract signings fell 1.2% to 88.6 in August, from 89.7 in July.

The biggest monthly decline was in the Northeast, which was significantly disrupted by Hurricane Irene in the closing weekend of August, NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said.

Broadly speaking, contract signing activity has been holding in a narrow range for many months, he added.

"We continue to experience a pattern in which financially qualified home buyers, willing to stay well within their means, are being denied credit -- a factor in elevated levels of contract failures," he lamented.

"The unnecessarily restrictive mortgage underwriting standards are attenuating the housing recovery and are a risk factor for the overall economy," he added. "Based on the improving fundamentals of population growth, some job additions, rent increases and higher stock market wealth, we should be seeing existing-home sales closer to 5.5 million, but are expecting just over 4.9 million this year."

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On a positive note -- the August reading was still 7.7% above that of last year, when it stood at 82.3. It was also better than the 1.5% decline that economists, on average, had been expecting, according to

Briefing.com.

-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

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