WASHINGTON

- Fixed mortgage rates rose slightly this week off their record lows. The year ends much like it began, with few people able to take advantage of the best rates in history.

Freddie Mac said yesterday that the average on the 30-year home loan increased to 3.95 percent from 3.91 percent. Last week's rate was the lowest average on records dating to the 1950s.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage rose to 3.24 percent. That's up from 3.21 percent, also a record low.

Rates have been below 5 percent for all but two weeks in 2011. Even so, this year is shaping up to be one of the worst ever for home sales.

Previously occupied homes are selling just slightly ahead of last year's dismal pace. And new-home sales appear headed for their worst year on records going back half a century.

Next year could be better. More than 5 percent of households said this month that they plan to purchase a home within the next six months, according to the Conference Board.

Builders are also hopeful that the low rates could boost sales next year. Low mortgage rates were cited as a key reason the National Association of Home Builders survey of builder sentiment rose in December to its highest level in more than a year.

But so far, rates are having no major impact. Mortgage applications have fallen slightly in recent weeks, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

High unemployment and scant wage gains have made it harder for many people to qualify for loans. Many Americans don't want to sink money into a home that they fear could lose value over the next few years.