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Another drop in mortgage interest rates, to their lowest level in three years, sent borrowers back to the bank to refinance home loans.
Total mortgage application volume increased 2.9 percent last week on a seasonally adjusted basis from the previous week. Applications are now nearly 35 percent higher than one year ago, when rates were considerably higher, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Applications to refinance home loans drove the volume, rising 7 percent from the previous week, seasonally adjusted. Applications to purchase a home, which are less sensitive to rates on a weekly basis, fell 2 percent for the week but are 12 percent higher than a year ago.
The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 57.7 percent of total applications from 55.3 percent the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage share of activity increased to 5.7 percent of total applications.
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) decreased to its lowest level since May 2013, 3.76 percent, from 3.79 percent, with points increasing to 0.33 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio loans.
"Rates fell on concerns that Britain may vote to leave the European Union later this week. Although beliefs about the likelihood of an exit have since moderated, the 'Brexit' vote promises to bring continued volatility to markets," said Lynn Fisher, MBA vice president of research. "Refinance applications rallied last week on a 3 basis point drop in mortgage rates to the lowest level since May 2013. Notably, the jumbo rate fell to 3.70 percent last week, its lowest level since MBA started the series in 2011."
Purchase volume is now down 7 percent in the past four weeks, and the annual gains are shrinking. A historically low number of listings has cut into potential sales in this usually busy season for housing, as demand far exceeds supply. Homebuilders did not ramp up production much in May, and housing starts are still running well below normal levels, not even considering pent-up demand.
Low mortgage rates have helped affordability some, but they have also bolstered gains in home prices, as buyers can now afford more. Rates dropped on fears of a British vote on Thursday to exit the European Union and could do just the opposite if the vote yields no change. On Tuesday, rates moved to the highest level in two weeks.
"That could change though," wrote Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. "One of the reasons rates haven't been more volatile is the fact that the Brexit vote is seen as being fairly even. As soon as a clear victor emerges, rates could move swiftly. A 'remain' vote could cause a much quicker move higher in rates on Friday morning."