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U.S. pending home sales rise to highest in 21/2 years

Dec. 29, 2012 @ 12:05 AM

WASHINGTON -- A measure of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes increased last month to its highest level in two and a half years, the latest sign of improvement in the once-battered housing market.

The National Association of Realtors said Friday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index rose 1.7 percent in November from October to 106.4. That's the highest since April 2010, when a homebuyer tax credit caused a spike in sales. And after excluding those months when the tax credit was available, it's the best reading since February 2007.

The increase followed a 5 percent gain in October and suggests higher sales of previously occupied homes in the coming months. There's generally a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed sale.

In November, signed contracts to buy homes rose in the Northeast and West, and ticked up slightly in the Midwest. They were unchanged in the South.

Home sales are on track to rise 10 percent this year to their highest level in five years, buoyed by ultra-low mortgage rates and steady job gains. The Realtors' group forecasts that sales may rise in 2013 to about 5.1 million. That's still below the more than 5.5 million that is considered consistent with a healthy market.

New W.Va. travel guide celebrates 150th birthday

CHARLESTON -- The state is highlighting its 150th birthday in a new travel guide.

The 2013 West Virginia state travel guide is available free at welcome center locations across the state.

The guide features 150 opportunities to experience the Mountain State and 150 reasons to love West Virginia state parks.

It also includes a scout's guide to family fun to welcome Boy Scouts of America and their families to the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in 2013. The guide lists shopping and dining opportunities, outdoor recreation, lodging options and culture and history events.

Smartphone users will be able to access information online via codes on select ads in the guide.

The guide also will be available through the state tourism division's website in January.

Ohio medical center sale to be finalized

NEWARK, Ohio -- A central Ohio hospital is paying more than $26 million for a competing facility owned by physicians.

The Columbus Dispatch says the sale of the for-profit Medical Center of Newark to nonprofit Licking Memorial Health Systems is going to be finalized Friday. Newark is east of Columbus.

The newspaper says the sale includes the medical center, land and equipment.

The medical center has said it will lay off its 160 workers because of the sale. But Licking Memorial spokeswoman Veronica Link said the nonprofit hospital has offered to interview all of the medical center's workers and will hire many of them.

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