The Pending Home Sales Index reached 97 with a climb that was twice the rate economists had expected.
The NAR revised December's pending home sales index to 95.1. The index in January reached 97, which is 8 percent higher than January 2011, when the index stood at 89.8.
NAR called the upward trend in the housing market "uneven but meaningful since reaching a cyclical low last April."
"Given more favorable housing market conditions, the trend in contract activity implies we are on track for a more meaningful sales gain this year. With a sustained downtrend in unsold inventory, this would bring about a broad price stabilization or even modest national price growth, of course with local variations," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.
NAR said the pending home sales index rose 7.6 percent in the Northeast and 3.8 percent in the Midwest. In the South, the index rose 7.7 percent. In the West, the index fell 4.4 percent, the NAR said.