Mortgage applications fall, as refinancing hits 20-year low 

A sold sticker is displayed on a for sale sign outside a home in Garner, N.C.

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A significant drop in mortgage interest rates was not enough to entice homeowners to refinance their loans last week. Total mortgage application volume decreased 0.5 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Volume was 13.5 percent lower than the same week one year ago.

Applications to refinance a home mortgage fell 2 percent for the week and were 28 percent lower than the same week one year ago, when interest rates were lower. The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 37.2 percent of total applications from 37.6 percent the previous week.

More than half of all homeowners with a mortgage today have rates below 4 percent, according to CoreLogic. Even those homeowners who want to tap some of the newfound equity in their home, given the sharp rise in home values, are more likely to take out a second loan rather than refinance to a higher interest rate. Home equity lines of credit are increasing as refinances decrease.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) decreased to 4.79 percent last week from 4.84 percent the previous week, with points decreasing to 0.41 from 0.42 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

“Financial market volatility in response to continued worries about trade resulted in both lower mortgage rates and a drop in applications last week,” said Mike Fratantoni, chief economist at the MBA, adding that refinances saw one of the weakest readings in the last 20 years.

Lower interest rates are not doing much for homebuyers either. Mortgage applications to purchase a home rose 1 percent for the week but were 1.4 percent lower than the same week one year ago. The only gains were in FHA purchase applications. FHA loans are government-insured and offer lower down payment options to buyers with weaker credit scores.

“A shortage of inventory remains a significant constraint, but it is interesting to note that applications for government purchase loans fared better on the week, indicating that first-time buyers remain in the market,” said Fratantoni.

The critical shortage of homes for sale continues to be the most formidable roadblock to a full housing recovery. Supplies are not getting much better, and home price gains are accelerating as buyers compete for the very few good listings on the market.

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