Pending home sales grew again in March, the sixth time they have improved in the past nine months, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. NAR's Pending Home Sales Index, which measures the number of home sales contracts signed, rose 5.1% to 94.1 in March, up from February's revised figure of 89.5, but still down from 106.2 last year. Despite the 11% drop from last March, NAR is optimistic about the latest increase in pending home sales. The association attributes last year's high volume of pending contracts to the homebuyer tax credit, which spurred home sales in the first quarter. “Since reaching a cyclical bottom last June, pending home sales have posted an overall gain of 24% and demonstrate the market is recovering on its own,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for NAR. “The index means modest near-term gains in existing-home sales are likely, which would be even stronger if tight mortgage lending criteria returned to normal, safe standards.” Write to Kerri Panchuk.