Americans signed contracts to buy homes in April at the fastest pace in nearly nine years, evidence that steady job growth is strengthening the real estate market.

The National Association of Realtors says its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index climbed 3.4 percent to 112.4 last month. It's the fourth consecutive monthly gain. The index now stands at its highest level since May 2006.

Pending sales increased in the Northeast, Midwest and South, while barely edging upward in the West.

Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases. A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a contract and a completed sale.