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WASHINGTON – More Americans signed contracts to purchase homes in April than the prior month. But the pace of buying is still weaker than last year, as higher prices and relatively tight supplies have limited sales.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index rose 0.4 percent to 97.8 last month. The index remains 9.2 percent below its level a year ago.

Data for the Buffalo Niagara region is not yet available for April. But according to the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors, pending sales in March fell 2.7 percent to 947 and are down 1.3 percent for the year to date, to 2,271.

Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases. A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a signed contract and a completed sale. The index indicates that home buying has barely increased in May.

The gain in signed contracts partly reflects the slight decline in mortgage rates and the economic rebound from the brutal winter. But prices have risen by 12.4 percent year-over-year, according to Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index. That has put home ownership out of reach for a growing share of Americans who are stuck with stagnant incomes in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

The number of signed contracts increased in the Northeast and Midwest month-to-month.