Real Estate

Higher rates lead to drop in mortgage applications

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It didn't take much to stem the miniboom in mortgage refinancing. Slightly higher interest rates brought total loan application volume down 9 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis for the week that ended Friday from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Applications to refinance a loan fell 10 percent week to week, seasonally adjusted. Purchase applications were not much better, falling 7 percent from the previous week and dipping below year-ago levels yet again.

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"The 30-year mortgage rate increased to its highest level since early January last week, with rates moving up sharply towards the end of the week. The refinance index has fallen to its lowest level since the week ending January 9th," said Michael Fratantoni, chief economist for the MBA.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) increased to 3.84 percent from 3.79 percent, with points increasing to 0.31 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans, according to the MBA.

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Application volume was still up considerably from four weeks ago, largely due to a change to lower premiums by the Federal Housing Administration, the government insurer of home loans. FHA refinance volume continued to rise, while conventional refinancing fell dramatically. FHA refinance applications were up 223 percent from four weeks ago and FHA purchase applications were up 39 percent. The new lower FHA premiums went into effect Jan. 26.

Interest rates have been moving higher since the start of February, largely in reaction to their precipitous drop in January. No one factor is pushing them higher, other than a simple correction.

"On such occasions, the question will always be: Is this just a correction in a longer term trend, or are rates done heading lower?" wrote Matthew Graham of Mortgage News Daily. "Based on where we are today, it would be far too soon to say that the long term trend toward lower rates is defeated." 

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