With mortgage rates tumbling to a new low, some are beginning to wonder just how far they will continue to fall.
According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average sank to a record-low 3.15% with an average 0.8 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1% of the loan amount and are in addition to the interest rate.) It is the lowest recorded since Freddie Mac began tracking mortgage rates in 1971, and it surpassed the previous historic low of 3.23% set in late April. The 30-year fixed rate, which was 3.24% a week ago and 3.99% a year ago, has set new lows three times in just the past few months.
Freddie Mac, the federally chartered mortgage investor, aggregates rates from 125 lenders across the country to come up with national average mortgage rates. It uses rates for borrowers with flawless credit scores. These rates are not available to every borrower.
The 15-year fixed-rate average fell to 2.62% with an average 0.7 point. It was 2.7% a week ago and 3.46% a year ago. The five-year adjustable-rate average slid to 3.13% with an average 0.4 point. It was 3.17% a week ago and 3.6% a year ago.
"The low rate environment is a result of investors continuing to prefer the safety of bonds and [Federal Reserve] buying," said Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com. "Low rates are energizing home buyers with a boost in affordability and are bringing them back to the housing market, despite the swirling economic uncertainty."
As data released this week showed, the housing market is starting to rebound, no doubt buoyed by low mortgage rates. New-home sales were predicted to tank in April but instead moved slightly higher. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, new-home sales were up 1% last month.
"The coronavirus pandemic has generated any number of nasty surprises over the past few months, but the unexpected strength in April new-home sales may be the first pleasant surprise yet — and the clearest indicator so far that housing, so unlike the last time around, will be a source of relative strength during this downturn," said Matthew Speakman, a Zillow economist. "New-home sales are often a more current measure of activity than existing-home sales, and it seems clear that after some initial wobbliness, the market has certainly stabilized."
Although buyers may have been hoping the pandemic would cause home prices to fall, that hasn't been the case so far. Home values climbed 4.4% nationally in March, according to the S&P Case Shiller index released this week.
"Relative to the broader economy, the housing market — particularly home prices — have gotten away more or less scot free so far," Speakman said. "The strong buyer demand heading into this crisis has held fairly steady in the months since the outbreak, as record-low mortgage rates and inventory levels have maintained competition in the markets and placed upward pressure on home prices. Still, so much remains uncertain — including the longer-term path for home prices — but for now, competition for homes is holding strong and keeping prices afloat."
Bankrate.com, which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found nearly three-quarters of the experts it surveyed expect rates to remain about the same in the coming week.
"This will be another week of little change to rates," said Gordon Miller, owner of Miller Lending Group in Cary, North Carolina. "I don't see any reason for higher rates and nothing compelling for lower rates yet, either."
Meanwhile, with home buyers returning, mortgage applications picked up this week. According to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association, the market composite index — a measure of total loan application volume — increased 2.7% from a week earlier, mainly because of the greater number of purchase applications. The purchase index moved higher for the sixth week in a row, rising 9%, and was up 54% from early April. Most notably, the purchase index gained 9% year-over-year, the first annual increase since the pandemic hit.
The refinance index slipped 0.2% but was 176% higher than it was the same time last year. The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 62.6% of applications.
“The mortgage market has been active in recent weeks, with lenders reporting stronger borrower demand in many of the states that are gradually reopening,” said Bob Broeksmit, MBA president and CEO. “Refinance activity decreased last week but remains significantly higher than last year.”