The Pending Home Sales Index increased 3.4% to 97.4 for March, according to a National Association of Realtors (NAR) report released today.

After falling a revised 0.5% for February, analysts had expected a significantly smaller 0.6% rise. Compared to March 2013, however, pending home sales are still down 7.9%.

The index is based on contract signings (with sales usually finalized one or two months later) and is benchmarked to 2001 contract activity. (An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year the association examined data.)

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun noted that terrible winter weather left the index with almost nowhere to go but up. "After a dismal winter, more buyers got an opportunity to look at homes last month and are beginning to make contract offers," Yun said in a statement today. "Sales activity is expected to steadily pick up as more inventory reaches the market, and from ongoing job creation in the economy."

On a regional basis, the West, South, and Northeast all saw March pending home sales increase 5.7%, 5.6%, and 1.4%, respectively. Only the Midwest saw sales slip, down 0.8% from February to March.

Looking ahead, the NAR expects the median existing-home price to grow 6% to 7% for 2014 overall, while existing-home sales are expected to shrink 3.9% for the year.

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.