US pending home sales surged higher in March, breaking an eight-month streak of declines as prospective buyers emerged from a brutal winter, the National Association of Realtors said Monday. NAR's pending home sales index, based on contract signings, leaped 3.4 percent to 97.4 from an upwardly revised 94.2 reading in February. The gain was much bigger than the 1.0 percent rise expected by analysts. "After a dismal winter, more buyers got an opportunity to look at homes last month and are beginning to make contract offers," said NAR's chief economist, Lawrence Yun. "Sales activity is expected to steadily pick up as more inventory reaches the market, and from ongoing job creation in the economy." Compared with a year ago, March pending home sales were down 7.9 percent. Tight supplies, rising home prices and higher mortgage loan interest rates have dampened home buying. NAR predicted existing-home sales would total just over 4.9 million this year, below the nearly 5.1 million in 2013. But with inventory tight in much of the country, the median price for used homes was projected to rise as much as seven percent this year.