Real Estate

Weekly mortgage applications drop 4.6% on higher rates

Mortgage apps down but home loans are up

A sharp rise in interest rates at the end of last week sent mortgage applications on a slide. Total volume fell 4.6 percent for the week ending May 1 from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). The numbers are seasonally adjusted. This as European and U.S. bond markets sold off, pushing interest rates to highs not seen in several months.

Refinances, which are highly interest rate sensitive, were the driver of the overall volume drop. Applications to refinance loans fell 8 percent week-to-week. The refinance share decreased to just 53 percent of total applications. It had been as high as 80 percent during the worst of the housing crash, when rates were hitting new record lows and home sales were anemic.

Despite higher rates, applications to purchase homes did manage a slight gain, up 1 percent from the previous week to the highest level since June 2013. That, coincidentally, was exactly when rates spiked sharply, following the Federal Reserve's first hint that it would "taper" its investments in mortgage backed bonds. A precipitous drop in home sales followed that rate increase. Housing demand right now, however, appears to be quite strong.

Home values rising

"While rates do eventually create downward pressure on purchase demand, it's not nearly as immediate or pronounced as the effect on refinance activity," noted Matthew Graham of Mortgage News Daily. "Additionally, rate spikes tend to motivate fence-sitters, or other prospective buyers, who otherwise might have taken more time shopping around."

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The difference now, compared to two years ago, may also be that most of the sales activity is on the higher end of the housing market, where buyers are less sensitive to interest rate moves. Mortgage purchase applications are 12 percent higher than a year ago, but the loans are not the same.

"The average loan amount for a purchase application reached a record high, a sign that the mix of purchase activity is still skewed toward higher priced homes," said Mike Fratantoni, MBA's chief economist.

Rates have not moved as sharply higher as they did in June of 2013, but the stage is set for more gains. Last week, the average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) increased to 3.93 percent from 3.85 percent, with points remaining unchanged from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans, according to the MBA.