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Mortgage Applications Could Mean Hot Summer for Housing

Wednesday, 13 Jun 2012 | 10:30 AM ET
Phillip Spears | Digital Vision | Getty Images

After holding in lackluster territory for much of the spring season, weekly mortgage applications took a huge jump, signaling that the usual summer slowdown is perhaps, holding off.

Applications to purchase a home jumped 13 percent week-to-week,according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, while refinance applications surged just over 19 percent (both seasonally adjusted). This as the rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage stayed essentially flat at 3.88 percent, up from 3.87 percent.

“The increase was accentuated due to the comparison to the week including Memorial Day, but the level of refinance and total market activity is the highest since the spring of 2009,” said Michael Fratantoni, MBA's Vice President of Research and Economics. “Refinance volume increased as borrowers were able to lock in at mortgage rates below 4 percent, and purchase application volume was its highest level in over six months.”

Fratantoni also notes that volume in the government’s refinance program for underwater borrowers with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans (HARP), which was expanded in January, has been steady in recent weeks at about 28 percent of refinance applications.

This week, a new streamline refinance program by the government’s mortgage insurer, the FHA, went into effect. That may increase refinance application volume in the weeks to come. The refinance share of activity rose to 79 percent of total applications, from 78 percent the previous week, according to the MBA.

“When you see this kind of jump, it means demand is very strong,” says Paul Miller, head of financial research at FBR. “You only have to talk to a few mortgage guys, to know demand is through the roof out there. We have heard from a few that capacity is very constrained right now, and customers are told to have a lot of patience.”

Mortgage applications to buy a home had been declining for the past four weeks, which seemed to signal a slowdown in the market. It is, however, not a perfect reading in this unique market, as anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of home sales in different markets are to investors using all cash.

While the all-cash share of home purchases was at 29 percent in April, according to the National Association of Realtors, in some of the most distressed markets that number can be far higher.

The mortgage applications number is just that, applications, and with tight credit standards in the market today, many of those applications will be rejected. Still it is a positive sign going forward for the overall housing recovery.

The more non-investor, organic buyers jumping back in the pool, the better. While refinances always dominate mortgage originations, experts say the purchase numbers are slowly coming back.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @Diana_Olick

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  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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