Even after long-term mortgage interest rates plunged to an almost 18-month low last week, there was no positive effect on the number of home purchase applications, according to the Mortgage Bankers Assocation. The rock-bottom rates did however push refinance applications higher.
Rates fell as worried investors turned to bonds, said MBA chief economist Mike Frantantoni in a statement. “Continuing concerns about weak economic growth in Europe and a few U.S. economic indicators that came in below expectations caused a flight to quality into U.S. Treasurys last week, leading to sharp drops in interest rates. Mortgage rates have fallen close to 30 basis points over the last four weeks.”
Mortgage giant Freddie Mac reported that the average interest rate on a 30-year conventional fixed rate mortgage sank to 3.97 percent, excluding fees, down from 4.12 percent the week before. That’s the first time the 30-year has averaged under 4.0 percent in more than a year.
As a result, homeowners rushed to the mortgage table to cash in on those lower rates, with refinance applications skyrocketing up 23 percent in the week ended October 17, 2014. That helped the refinance share of applications move up to 65 percent of the total. The average loan balance for refinance applications also climbed to its highest point on record at $306,400. The MBA suggests that it is mostly the nation’s wealthier homeowners that are taking advantage of lower rates.
Applications for home loans to purchase a home fell however by 5 percent during the past week, showing that interest rates are certainly not the most important factor in pushing home sales back up. Inventory and credit availability for those in the lower and medium-price ranges have been the biggest limiting issues for the past few months. Finance regulators approved new mortgage regulations this week though designed to encourage more private investment in the home loan market which may help to loosen credit in the future.