Higher US rates put a damper on mortgage refinancing

Mortgage applications Bank of America
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Even a small rise in mortgage rates was enough to cut off the spigot on refinancing.

Total loan application volume fell 2.6 percent last week from the previous week, on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). The drop was fueled by a six percent fall-off in refinance applications.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) increased to 4.17 percent from 4.13 percent for the week ending October 31st. By the start of this week, they hit their highest level in nearly a month, according to Mortgage News Daily (MND).

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"We're now right to the edge between the previous 2014 lows and this new, lower range achieved over the past 3-4 weeks. With three days of significant market events ahead [the October jobs report being a major one], we'll likely see either a reinforcement of this barrier between "then and now" or simply (and sadly) a move back up into the previous range of 4.125 percent and higher," said Matthew Graham of MND.

Mortgage applications to purchase homes finally crawled out of their slump, rising three percent from the previous week. They had been falling steadily for the past month.

"Purchase application volume increased last week, but still remains almost 13 percent below last year's level," said Michael Fratantoni, chief economist for the MBA. "The growth in the purchase market is still only at the high end, with continued weakness at the entry level."

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Fewer first time home buyers
Fewer first time home buyers   

First-time home buyers are still at a historically low share of the market, according to a report earlier this week from the National Association of Realtors. Part of that is still-tight credit, but most of it is higher home prices. The latest read on prices nationally from CoreLogic showed them up 5.6 percent from a year ago in September.

The gains are shrinking, but they are still gains; with more inventory coming to the market, prices will likely come down further, which is why entry level buyers are in no rush to sign on the dotted line just yet.