Contract signings to purchase previously owned U.S. homes surged in May by the most on record as mortgage rates fell and some states began to reopen from coronavirus lockdowns.

The National Association of Realtors’ index of pending home sales increased 44.3 per cent to a three-month high of 99.6, after falling in April to the lowest level in records back to 2001. The median projection in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 19.3 per cent gain in May.

Even with the outsize advance, the index is below the pre-pandemic high of 111.4, reached in February.

The advance adds to signs the residential real estate market is snapping back faster than most of the economy after the typically robust spring home-selling season was interrupted amid the shutdowns.

Mortgage rates have dropped to the lowest on record, helping to stabilize demand though the industry may be challenged by high unemployment and lingering health concerns.

“The outlook has significantly improved,” Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said in a statement.

The Realtors project existing home sales to reach 4.93 million units this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.77 million. Last year, there were more than 5.3 million previously owned homes sold.

An S&P homebuilders index advanced 1 per cent in early trading on Monday after the Realtors data.

Some government officials began easing their restrictions on business in May. With coronavirus cases increasing in states including Texas, California and Florida, some locations are putting a pause on lockdowns. Still, home-purchase loan applications are close to an 11-year high.

Pending home sales rebounded sharply in all U.S. regions, including a 56.2 per cent monthly jump in the West and a 43.3 per cent gain in the South.