A sharp drop in mortgage rates was enough to spark a refinance rebound, but it did little to spur homebuyers in a spring market plagued by very tight supply.
Total mortgage application volume rose 2.7 percent last week on a seasonally adjusted basis from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Volume is now just over 3 percent higher than one year ago.
Refinance volume jumped 7 percent week to week, although it is still down nearly 2 percent from a year ago. Higher rates stalled the refinance market, as so many borrowers had already locked in far-lower rates last year. The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 54.5 percent of total applications from 52.4 percent the previous week.
"This was the first increase in refinance activity after six weeks of declines," said MBA economist Joel Kan. "Applications for conventional refinance loans increased around 9 percent, while applications for government refinance loans were essentially unchanged."
Mortgage applications to purchase a home decreased 2 percent from one week earlier, but were up 11 percent from the same week a year ago. The spring market has brought potential buyers out to scour neighborhood listings, but there are still not enough listings to meet demand.
"Agents broadly highlighted the continuation of low and relatively benign mortgage rates as supporting the usual seasonal uptick in spring traffic," Credit Suisse analysts wrote in their monthly survey of real estate agents. "Limited inventory remains a challenge in several markets, though in a few cases short supply actually contributed to a build-up of demand and encouraged incremental urgency."
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) decreased to 3.86 percent from 3.94 percent, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.36 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio loans.
"Rates fell last week as a more cautious message from Chair Yellen about the economic outlook and continuing concerns about weaker growth abroad kept demand for U.S. Treasurys high," Kan said, referring to Fed Chair Janet Yellen. "The 30-year fixed mortgage rate dropped 8 basis points, the largest single week decline in eight weeks."