Steady interest rates bring mortgage volume back to life

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A property for sale in Monterey Park, California


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Mortgage borrowers came back to the table last week to refinance and to purchase homes, after their numbers fell for most of the past month.

Total mortgage application volume rose 4.2 percent last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted report. Volume was still 15 percent lower compared with the same week one year ago.

The gains may be thanks to less volatility in the mortgage market, after wide swings at the start of August. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) remained unchanged at 4.81 percent last week, with points decreasing to 0.42 from 0.43 (including the origination fee) for loans with 20 percent downpayments.

The average rate for jumbo loans, however, did decrease slightly. That may have spurred more refinance activity, as borrowers with larger loans have more to gain from even small drops in rates. Mortgage applications to refinance a home loan increased 6 percent for the week but were still 33 percent lower than a year ago, when interest rates were considerably lower.

The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 38.7 percent of total applications from 37.6 percent the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 6.5 percent of total applications. Homebuyers tend to favor ARMs when prices are high, because they offer lower interest rates and can be at a fixed rate for up to a decade.

Mortgage applications to purchase a home, which are less rate-sensitive week to week, rose 3 percent from the previous week and were barely 1 percent higher than a year ago. Buyers today are still facing a critical shortage of homes for sale and continued price gains. Home sales, however are strongest on the higher end of the market, so the drop in jumbo loan rates may have helped some buyers get off the fence and into a home.

Purchase application volume is currently below its 2018 average “due to persistent problems of affordability and low inventory,” said Joel Kan, an MBA economist.

Mortgage rates have not moved at all this week either, making this Tuesday the eighth straight business day with no change.

“During that time, underlying bond markets have improved slightly,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer at Mortgage News Daily. “Normally, those improvements would translate to modest improvements in rates, but lenders are waiting for a bigger breakout that, thus far, has failed to materialize.”



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