Contracts to buy previously owned U.S. homes fell in November for the third time in four months, a signal that growth in the U.S. housing market could be cooling.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) said on Wednesday its pending home sales index slipped 0.9 percent to 106.9. The NAR said the index rose slightly more in October than initially estimated.

Economists had expected a 0.5 percent increase in November.

Pending home contracts become sales after a month or two, and the declines in recent months could point slower growth in homebuying in 2016, when interest rates are expected to rise. Mortgage rates have only inched higher since the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark rate by a quarter point on Dec. 16, but Fed policymakers expect to continue hiking next year.

Pending home sales had been posting strong gains earlier in the year and were still up 2.7 percent from a year ago.

But contracts fell 3 percent in the Northeast in November from a month earlier and were down 5.5 percent in the West. They rose 1.3 percent in the South and gained 1.0 percent in the Midwest.

Reuters (Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)