(Pending home sales article updated with additional information and stock price movement.)

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- An index that measures the number of contracts to buy previously-owned homes in the U.S. rose 5.2% in July, better than expected, with gains in all four regions.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday morning that its index of pending home sales, which tracks signed sales contracts, rose 5.2%. Economists had expected the index to fall by 1.1% to a reading of 74.9, from a downwardly revised 2.6% decline in June.

The pending home sales index plunged 29.9% in May and another 2.8% in June after the April 30 expiration of federal tax credits for homebuyers.

The July index came in better than expected, but sales in the month remained 19.1% lower than July of 2009.

Pending-home sales are considered a good barometer of future existing-home sales. There is typically a one- to two-month delay from when contracts are signed and home sales are closed.

Reports last week showed existing-home sales plummeted 27.2% in July, far worse than the expected rate of 4.72 million units after a downwardly revised rate of 5.26 million in June.

The data sparked a heated debate among readers of TheStreet. Join the discussion here.

>>Existing-Home Sales: Winners & Losers

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