Pending sales of previously owned U.S. homes fell more than expected in November because of the end of a rush to beat the initial expiration of a popular tax credit, a survey showed on Tuesday.

The National Association of Realtors said its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in November, dropped 16 percent to 96.0, after rising for nine straight months.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast pending home sales, which lead existing home sales by one to two months, falling 2 percent in November after rising to 114.3 in October.

Despite the monthly drop, the pending Homes Sales Index was 15.5 percent higher compared to November 2008, the Realtors group said.

Home sales have been boosted by a $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers, which has been expanded and extended to mid-2010. The popular tax credit had been scheduled to expire at the end of November.

The fact that pending home sales are comfortably above year-ago levels shows the market has gained sufficient momentum on its own, said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

We expect another surge in the spring as more home buyers take advantage of affordable housing conditions before the tax credit expires.

The pending home sales index in the Northeast dropped 25.7 percent to 74.4 in November, but was 14.7 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest the index fell 25.7 percent to 82.0 and was 9.2 percent higher than November 2008.

Pending home sales activity in the South fell 15.0 percent to an index of 97.8, but was 14.7 percent higher than a year ago. Contract activity in the West declined 2.7 percent to 124.6, but was 21.4 percent above November 2008.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)