Pending sales of existing homes fell in August to their lowest level in four months as Hurricane Irene held back sales in the Northeast, data from a real estate trade group showed on Thursday.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in August, was down 1.2 percent to 88.6, its lowest since April.

Economists polled by Reuters ahead of the report were expecting sales to decline 1.8 percent.

Sales in the Northeast fell 5.8 percent. Hurricane Irene slammed into the region during the last weekend of the month.

The NAR's chief economist Lawrence Yun said the storm significantly disrupted sales in the Northeast, but that tight bank lending was also holding back the overall housing market.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Andrea Ricci)