Real Estate

Before Brexit storm, mortgage applications fell 2.6%

Interest rates moved minimally last week before the Brexit storm, discouraging would-be borrowers from seeking mortgages for refinancing and homebuying.

Total U.S. mortgage application volume decreased 2.6 percent for the week on a seasonally adjusted basis, compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. They are up nearly 38 percent from a year ago, when interest rates were higher.

Joshua Lott | Bloomberg | Getty Images

That annual gain is being driven mostly by applications to refinance home loans, which fell 2 percent last week, but are 63 percent higher than the same week one year ago. Mortgage applications to purchase a home fell 3 percent for the week and are 13 percent higher than a year ago.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) fell to its lowest level since May 2013, 3.75 percent, from 3.76 percent, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. After the Brexit vote, rates plummeted, as investors sold off stocks and headed to the relative safety of the bond market.

"The Brexit vote led to a large drop in Treasury rates, about 20 basis points initially and an additional 10 basis points on Monday, before stabilizing somewhat on Tuesday," said Michael Fratantoni, chief economist for the MBA.

"Whether the impact of Brexit will be contained to the initial shock of the 'Vote Leave' victory or will have a longer-term impact on markets is unclear, as even the terms and conditions of the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the EU remain to be seen," he added. "MBA's best guess at this point is that the impact on the mortgage market will be to keep mortgage rates lower for longer, leading to another pickup in refinance activity in the near future."

One year ago, the average rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage was over 4 percent, so at today's rates, millions of borrowers could benefit from a refinance. There are also more borrowers today who are eligible to refinance, as rising home prices in the past year brought thousands of underwater homeowners back into positive equity positions. Higher home prices may also prompt more cash-out refinances, as homeowners begin to tap into their equity once again.

"Everyone with a potential loan in process wants to know if rates will drop further or if they should lock to avoid the risk of rates snapping back," Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily, wrote late Tuesday, after mortgage rates stayed low, despite a slight bounce back in bond yields. "I will say that rates CAN go lower, but even before last week's Brexit news, we were already looking at diminishing returns with each new move lower. That said, with today's rates being the lowest in more than three years, it's perfectly reasonable to wait for at least one small move higher for a signal to lock."