Published: Oct 04, 2010 4:54 PM EDT
Updated: Oct 04, 2010 1:54 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of people who signed contracts to buy homes rose in August for the second straight month but remained far below last year's pace. The weak economy and fears that prices will fall are keeping many consumers away from the housing market.

The National Association of Realtors says its seasonally adjusted index of sales agreements for previously occupied homes rose 4.3 percent to a reading of 82.3. That's still more than 20 percent below the pace in the same month a year earlier.

Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected the index would rise to 81.4.

The index provides an early measurement of sales activity because there is usually a one- to two-month lag between a sales contract and a completed deal.