Real Estate

Weekly mortgage applications drop 6.7% on interest rate swings


What goes up must come down, especially when it comes to today's highly rate-sensitive mortgage borrowers.

Total mortgage application volume fell 6.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis for the week ending September 25 versus one week earlier, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). This, after volume had jumped by double digits the previous week.

Why the volatility?

Because interest rates are swinging relatively widely day-to-day, due to volatility in the U.S. stock market and overseas financial markets.

A Bank of America branch in New York City.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters

This, however, does not show up in the weekly averages: The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) decreased to 4.08 percent from 4.09 percent, with points remaining unchanged from 0.45 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

"Once again, the weekly average mortgage rate is not telling the story regarding mortgage application volume," said Michael Fratantoni, chief economist for the MBA. "The prior week included days with much lower rates due to volatility around the Fed's announcement that drove refinance volume up. Last week, a more stable rate produced less volume, as rates at this level just do not provide an incentive for most homeowners to refinance."

Refinance application volume decreased 8 percent from the previous week, on a seasonally adjusted basis. Applications to purchase a home, which are less rate-sensitive, fell 6 percent from one week earlier but are 20 percent higher than the same week one year ago, according to the MBA.

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Lower purchase volume seems to indicate that the slowdown in home buying will continue. Both signed contracts to buy homes and closed home sales fell more than expected in August, according to the National Association of Realtors. Fall is traditionally the start of the slower housing season, but this year the signs point to a bigger slowdown than usual.

"While September and October look steady, there are early signs that point to a softening market in the final two months of the year," according to a new report from Redfin, a real estate brokerage. "The number of Redfin customers touring homes held steady from July to August, but fewer people actually made offers."

Next Monday lenders will face new regulations for disclosing loan information. While they have had considerable time to adapt their systems, some expect that could stall closings on some home purchases and even deter certain borrowers from applying for a mortgage refinance.