SIGNING UP: The number of people who signed contracts to buy U.S. homes jumped 6.7 percent in May to the highest level in more than six years, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday.

HOME IMPROVEMENT: The increase points to healthy gains in home sales in the coming months. There is generally a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed sale.

RATE RUSH: The increase could reflect an effort by potential buyers to complete deals before mortgage rates rose further. Mortgage rates rose in May and then jumped after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested last week the Fed could slow its bond purchases later this year.